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Nuggets build big lead, hold off T-Wolves down the stretch

Denver 113, Minnesota 107

For the Denver Nuggets, there was no love lost when the Minnesota Timberwolves lost Kevin Love.

Just a few minutes after lowering his shoulder into Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, Minnesota’s All-Star power forward was knocked out of the game when he took an inadvertent elbow to the head while taking a charge against JaVale McGee.

Battling for position in the Western Conference playoff race, the Nuggets took advantage of Love’s absence, sprinting to a 24-point first-half lead and then holding on for a 113-107 win at Pepsi Center on Wednesday night.

Faried finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Ty Lawson added 24 points for Denver (32-26), which moved into a three-way tie with Dallas and Houston for sixth place in the Western Conference.

Despite the victory, Nuggets coach George Karl was frustrated with the fact that Denver had to scramble in the fourth quarter against a struggling Minnesota team playing without Love and starting point guard Luke Ridnour.

“I think it was the worst win of the year,” Karl said. “I’m highly disappointed in our habits, our mental toughness. Our young guys get a lead and they change how they are playing. I’m happy we won, but I’m not happy with the way we won.”

The Nuggets led by 18 with 2:37 left in the third quarter before the Timberwolves rallied behind young big men Anthony Randolph and Derrick Williams, who combined for 55 points on 21-of-36 shooting.

Martell Webster tied the game at 105 on a three-pointer with 1:41 remaining, but Arron Afflalo gave Denver the lead for good when he slipped behind the defense for a dunk four seconds later. Faried and Lawson combined to make six free throws down the stretch, allowing the Nuggets to exhale at the final buzzer.

“We lost a little bit of concentration in the second half,” said Lawson, who also came up with a big defensive rebound in the final minute. “We closed it out with Arron running the court, Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) making big shots and us making big free throws.”

Gallinari, playing with a fractured left thumb, finished with 18 points, and Al Harrington added a gritty 11 points off the bench despite playing with a strained right knee.

“It was a little hard to move laterally,” Harrington said. “But I’m done complaining about it. Just going to take it game by game. I can shoot. I can’t really drive and spin like I want to. Hopefully it starts feeling a little better.”

The Nuggets and Timberwolves were hoping the same thing for Love, who lay on the floor for several minutes and had to be helped off the court after catching an elbow from McGee eight minutes into the game.

“Just caught the ball and I was about to shoot it and he ran into my elbow,” McGee said. “I didn’t even see him fall. I hope he’s all right, though.”

Love, averaging 26 points and 13.3 rebounds this season, suffered a mild concussion and a strained neck. He remained in a Denver hospital overnight for precautionary reasons.

“It wasn’t anything intentional,” Minnesota guard Jose Barea said. “He just turned around and his head was in the way. As soon as he got hit, I knew that he was out.”

Denver promptly outscored the Timberwolves 12-2 after Love left the game and eventually led 65-41 late in the first half. After beating Golden State by 39 points two nights earlier, it looked like the Nuggets would enjoy another double-digit victory.

“When you see a lead like that erased, it was a combination of things,” Afflalo said. “You have to give them credit. They started making shots. Williams and Randolph really stepped up. Barea (career-high 15 assists) was really controlling the game for them.”

Though the Nuggets slipped, it didn’t cost them any games in the standings. With eight games remaining and a postseason berth on the line, they know they need to have better 48-minute focus starting with Friday’s road game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“During the playoff push, this cannot happen again,” Gallinari said.

NOTES: The Nuggets improved to 9-0 all-time when Lawson records at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds … McGee has blocked 11 shots in the past three games … Denver has won four straight home games for the first time since opening the season with four victories at Pepsi Center … The Nuggets are now 72-1 since the start of the 2008-09 season when scoring at least 110 points at home … Denver Mayor Michael Hancock delivered the game ball on a bicycle while taking part in NBA Green Week.