K-Mart makes big plays late as Clippers beat Nuggets

Los Angeles 104, Denver 98

Sitting courtside at Pepsi Center, Kenyon Martin spread his arms over the back of two chairs and admitted it felt strange returning to Denver in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform.

“It’s a little weird going to the visiting locker room after seven years (playing for the Nuggets),” Martin said. “There’s a lot of good memories.”

Martin, a mainstay for the Nuggets from 2004-2011, won’t soon forget his latest Colorado memory – this time at the expense of his former team.

After going without a rebound for the first 47 minutes, 32 seconds of the game, Martin tipped in a missed shot for the go-ahead basket, and the Clippers held off the Nuggets for a 104-98 victory Wednesday night.

“It’s all about winning basketball,” Martin said. “Never quit playing, no matter what the situation is. Always put yourself in position to make plays. I think that was my only rebound tonight, so it was perfect timing.”

For good measure, Martin blocked Ty Lawson’s shot attempt in the paint with 19.9 seconds to go, and the Clippers sealed the win with four consecutive free throws down the stretch.

Martin’s late-game heroics came nearly three months after former Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups made six three-pointers and scored a season-high 32 points in his return to Denver.

“Chauncey stung us and (Kenyon) stung us,” Nuggets forward Al Harrington said. “That’s crazy.”

The loss dropped the Nuggets (34-28) a half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference playoff race, but Denver remains 1½ games ahead of eighth-place Utah and two clear of ninth-place Phoenix.

“It’s a tough loss, but we have a couple days to bounce back,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We’re going to have to win a couple more games. It’s not going to be given to us. We’re going to have to earn it.”

The Nuggets get two days to rest and prepare for a big game Saturday in Phoenix. Depending on what the Suns and the Houston Rockets do in their respective games Thursday night, Denver could have a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win in the desert.

The Nuggets certainly looked playoff-ready in the first quarter against the Clippers, racing out to a 34-22 lead on 15-of-21 shooting. Denver consistently got inside the Los Angeles defense and enjoyed a 26-2 edge in the paint over the first 12 minutes.

The Clippers, though, hung around by making 7 of 10 three-pointers in the first half. They hit seven more in the second half, including a 34-foot heave by Mo Williams to beat the shot clock with 3:07 remaining.

“They made some tough threes,” Denver guard Arron Afflalo said. “They’ve got some creative players who can make shots. They made them when they needed to.”

With 12 points, Afflalo was one of six Nuggets in double figures. Lawson led all scorers with 24 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.

Lawson nearly had two more points when he caught a backdoor lob from Andre Miller out of a timeout in the final 20 seconds. Unable to catch and shoot in one motion, he gathered himself under the basket tried to get a shot up in traffic.

“I didn’t even see Kenyon,” Lawson said. “I would have pump faked or went a different way. He made a great play. That’s what he does. It was a great play on his end.”

The Clippers secured the rebound and called a quick timeout to advance the ball past midcourt. Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul ran through Miller while trying to get open on the subsequent inbounds pass, but Denver didn't get the whistle.

The Nuggets were forced to foul and never got another potential game-tying possession.

“I liked the way we played,” Harrington said. “I feel like if a couple calls went the other way, we might be in here with smiles on our faces. For us to lose a close game like that to a pretty good team and a team we could possibly face (in the playoffs), I like our chances.”

NOTES: Denver got solid performances from big men Kosta Koufos (12 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots) and Harrington (14 points, eight rebounds), as well as Miller (12 points, eight assists) ... The Nuggets held their annual book drive Wednesday night in conjuction with sponsor KIA Motors. Harrington was a spokesman for the "Reach Out and Read" campaign and said more than 500 books and about $10,000 in donations were collected prior to the game.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...