Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Carmelo Anthony goes up for two of his game-high 36 as the Nuggets cruised past the Clippers.
Denver 117, L.A. Clippers 99 (F)
Anthony scored 36 points to give him 121 in the last three games, and the Nuggets routed the injury-plagued
"Two good teams who deserve to go to the playoffs are going to battle on Thursday night,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. "When this thing all started evolving six or eight weeks ago, I remember circling the game with Golden State. We could get in (to the playoffs) if we don't win. It could give us a big leg up if we do win.''
Anthony, the NBA's fourth-leading scorer, shot 13-of-17 from the field and 9-of-12 from the foul line in 33 minutes, He left with 5:14 remaining and the Nuggets comfortably ahead.
"He's on a hot roll,'' Karl said. "Tonight his power and presence in the paint was presented early. When (Clippers coach Mike) Dunleavy went small to begin the game, it hurt them a little bit.''
Anthony has shot 49-of-72 while averaging just over 40 points in the last three games.
"It's got to be like that Thursday,'' the 6-foot-8 forward said. "I've got confidence it will be like that Thursday. It's a big game for us. Do I believe we have to win? No. But it's a must-win for us.''
Allen Iverson added 21 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, Linas Kleiza scored 15 points, and Marcus Camby had 13 points and 18 rebounds for the Nuggets (47-31), who snapped a two-game losing streak to teams already out of postseason contention.
"Our backs were against the wall,'' Anthony said. "We had to get this one.''
The Nuggets, who took command in the second quarter, shot 51 percent and outrebounded the Clippers 53-40. They led 63-47 at halftime and the Clippers weren't closer than 14 points in the second half.
"We played a good quarter and a half, but then we did not have a good answer for Carmelo,'' Dunleavy said. "He really had it going tonight with his mid-range face-up game, which made it hard to double-team him. Unfortunately, in the second quarter, we turned the ball over and gave them too many points off turnovers, the second-chance points. That's how they were able to built the lead up on us.''
Cuttino Mobley led the Clippers (23-54) with 25 points. Elton Brand, playing his fourth game after missing the season's first 74 while recovering from surgery on his torn left Achilles' tendon, added 17 and Quinton Ross scored 10.
"Once we get healthy, it won't be like this again,'' Brand said. "We have the talent, we just have to get it on the court.''
The Clippers, who have lost 22 of their last 26 games, played without starters Chris Kaman (sprained right ankle) and Corey Maggette (strained right hamstring). Tim Thomas returned after missing five games with a sore Achilles' tendon and had seven points and five rebounds.
Denver's Nene missed his second straight game due to a strained right groin.
Two baskets by Anthony and a three-point play by Iverson gave the Nuggets a 79-55 lead midway through the third quarter. The Clippers scored the last seven points of the period to trim Denver's lead to 91-74, but never threatened in the final period.
Iverson scored nine points during a 16-5 run that gave the Nuggets a 44-36 lead, and they were on top the rest of the way. The Clippers drew within three before Denver used a 17-4 spurt to finish the second quarter for its 16-point halftime lead.
Anthony needed only 10 minutes to reach double figures, making it a franchise-record 203 straight games that he's accomplished that feat. Anthony scored 13 points in the first quarter, which ended with the teams tied 23-all. He shot 6-of-8 in the period while his teammates went 4-of-15.
Notes: The Nuggets won three of four against the Clippers this season to win the season series for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. ... After playing at Golden State, the Nuggets finish the season with a road game against Utah and home games against Houston and Memphis. ... The Clippers finish with a home game against the Lakers on Thursday night and road games against Golden State, New Orleans and Houston. ... Denver's 16-23 road record is the worst among Western Conference playoff contenders. ... The Clippers have a 3-19 record when Kaman has had to sit out. ... The Nuggets entered as the NBA's scoring leader with a 110.6-point average, but were next-to-last in defense, allowing 107.0 points per game. They had allowed their previous 13 opponents to score at least 100 points. ... The Clippers entered with a 93.9-point scoring average to rank next-to-last in that category.