Nuggets 126, Suns 120 (F)

DENVER, April 1 (AP) -- Here we go again? Not this time.

The Denver Nuggets frittered away a big lead over Phoenix for the second time in 24 hours, but unlike their drubbing in the desert, they recovered from their latest meltdown for a crucial 126-120 victory over the Suns at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night.

"I love playing back-to-back games, especially after a loss,'' said Allen Iverson, who led Denver with 31 points. "You get a chance to get at it again and try to make sure you don't have the same nightmares from the night before. All I was thinking about was the loss yesterday until we started playing today.

"I couldn't sleep all last night because of that loss.''

Iverson didn't try counting sheep, either, but just lamented the 132-117 loss in which Denver blew a 22-point lead.

"You don't want to watch TV because you might see the highlights from that game. You stay away from the sports channels,'' Iverson said. "I woke up and tried to watch movies and tried to stay away from sports.''

With the win, the Nuggets pulled into eighth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race, a half-game ahead of Golden State, which lost at San Antonio on Tuesday night. And they denied the Suns a chance to move into first place by themselves in the Pacific Division over the idle Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nuggets have won nine of 12 overall and nine straight at home, but it's not like they're getting giddy. After all, either the Mavericks, Warriors and Nuggets might all win 50 games and one of them is going to be staying home for the playoffs.

"One loss and you're back down the totem pole,'' J.R. Smith said. "We can't be too excited about this. We've got to just keep playing our game.''

This time, the Nuggets not only buckled down on defense, but they returned to their hallmarks: getting to the rim and the free throw line - 47 times, making 37 of them, compared to Phoenix's 14-for-26 performance from the foul line.

"When we want to play, we can play,'' Smith said.

Carmelo Anthony grabbed two key rebounds and sank two free throws in the final 27 seconds and finished with 25 points. Kenyon Martin chipped in 18 points and Smith had 17.

Leandro Barbosa led the Suns with 27 points but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 15 seconds left. Anthony grabbed the board and sank one of two free throws, just as he had after pulling down a miss by Steve Nash with 27 seconds left.

After Nash (17 points and 18 assists) missed a 3-pointer, Shaquille O'Neal got the rebound and drew the foul but missed both free throws. Martin pulled down the second miss and sank two foul shots to secure Denver's ninth straight win at home.

The Suns didn't grab their first lead until Nash sank two free throws with 3:11 left, putting Phoenix on top 113-112. It seesawed after that until Marcus Camby's slow-motion jumper from the top of the key with 37 seconds left gave Denver a 122-120 lead.

Forward Grant Hill missed his third straight game with a strained right groin, and guard Raja Bell was ejected after picking two quick technicals in the third quarter.

The Suns had trimmed a 14-point, first-half deficit to 74-71 when the officials assessed Bell and Anthony a double-technical and admonished them both. Bell immediately pushed off on Anthony and drew the foul, then mouthed off, drawing his second technical and automatic ejection.

"Losing Raja hurt,'' Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We missed his play from the wing, plus he is our defensive guy.''

Stoudemire said he didn't even hear Bell blow up at the officials, either.

"Raja got ejected for smiling. I never saw that in my career. All he did was smile at the official and got ejected,'' Stoudemire fumed. "That was key for us. Raja is one of our key players. It's a big playoff atmosphere, both teams are fighting for the playoffs and one of our starters get ejected for smiling. That definitely didn't play to our favor.''

The officials had left the arena by the time Stoudemire criticized their calls.

The teams combined for a half dozen individual technicals, four of them on the Suns.

"Sometimes you get heated, sometimes it's emotional,'' D'Antoni said. "This is not a regular season game. For them, it's do or die. For us, it's do or die.''

Notes: Denver improved to 31-7 at home. ... Nuggets PG Anthony Carter had a career-best six steals. ... O'Neal (14 points, 13 boards) posted his second straight double-double against Denver.

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