Nuggets hand slumping Jazz fifth consecutive loss

Nuggets hand slumping Jazz fifth consecutive loss

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz have the Northwest Division title. The second-place Denver Nuggets have something more important heading into the postseason -- the confidence that comes from playing their best basketball of the season.

Denver extended its winning streak to seven straight by beating the slumping Jazz 115-106 Wednesday night to clinch a playoff berth.

Allen Iverson had 22 points and 12 assists, and Carmelo Anthony scored 32 points for the Nuggets, who haven't lost a game in April.

"What I'm happy about is we're just approaching every game the same way," Iverson said. "We won six games in a row, but we didn't care about that. We was concerned about this game here tonight."

The Nuggets led by as many as 14 points and held off several late surges by Utah to avoid a sweep by the Jazz in the season series. Marcus Camby had 13 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks for Denver, and Nene scored 19.

Denver needed just one more win to clinch a spot in the playoffs and can finish no worse than sixth in the Western Conference standings. That will mean visiting one of the top three teams in the first round, but the way the Nuggets are playing and with who they have, home court might not be much of an advantage for their opponent.

"It's a situation where we know we're dangerous and we have a lot of weapons and we continue to keep our composure and have some mental toughness in the fourth quarter," Denver coach George Karl said.

The Jazz have lost a season-high five in a row and could be starting the playoffs on the road despite being the division champion.

"There are lessons to be learned from the last two or three weeks. We've kind of destroyed a little bit of a great season," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Look at where this team could have been if we just had a little more effort on three or four different occasions."

Matt Harpring led Utah with 31 points. Deron Williams had 18 points and 14 assists, and Carlos Boozer finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.

Denver was 10-for-21 from 3-point range and had a huge advantage from the free throw line, where the Nuggets made 29 of 33 attempts -- 20 more than Utah. Anthony went 12-for-12 from the line and Iverson was 6-for-8.

"When you've got players with a reputation, that gives you an opportunity to get to the free throw line," Sloan said. "We're a young team and we don't have that ability."

The Nuggets led 55-48 at halftime and couldn't miss in the third quarter, going 12-for-19 from the field and 5-for-7 on 3s. Denver pulled ahead 86-72 on Nene's three-point play with 1:48 left in the third, then the Jazz closed the period with a 6-0 run.

Every time the Jazz gained a little, the Nuggets would come back with a 3-pointer, a three-point play or back-to-back field goals to stay ahead.

Every Denver starter scored in double figures. Even when the Jazz kept Iverson from driving, he was able to pass and the other Nuggets made the shots.

"It surprises me, the attention that I still get out there with these guys being so effective," Iverson said.

The Jazz got within five a few times before making one final push that fell just short late in the fourth quarter.

Mehmet Okur made a 3 that got the Jazz to 107-102. After a putback by Nene, Boozer made a layup and got a hook shot to roll in to cut the margin to 109-106 with 1:41 left. The Jazz had plenty of time and got a break when Harpring drew an offensive foul by Anthony at the other end with 1:21 remaining, but Utah unraveled from there and didn't score again.

Harpring missed a jumper, then after Nene's layup increased Denver's lead to 111-106, the Jazz turned the ball over and Denver coasted for the final minute.

Okur finished with 20 points.

Notes:@ The Jazz honored Denver assistant coach Adrian Dantley at halftime by retiring his No. 4, which he wore for Utah from 1979-86. Dantley's 29.6-point scoring average is the best in team history. ... Denver's reserves combined to score 13 points, but every starter had at least that many. ... The Nuggets attempted 17 free throws before the Jazz took their second from the line late in the second quarter.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-11-07 2301MDT

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