Nuggets take charge

OAKLAND, Calif. --- George Karl planned to grab a nice dinner and give his Denver Nuggets team a day off from practice following its playoff showdown win over the Golden State Warriors.


Then it's quickly back to work. Because if anything has been proven in the power-packed Western Conference this season, it's that teams can't rest on their laurels for even the shortest amount of time.

Allen Iverson scored 33 points, and J.R. Smith provided the energy with 24 points off the bench to help Denver take control of the race for the West's final playoff spot with a 114-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.

"When you live a day or two under stress and intensity, it's good to win and it's good to be relieved," Karl said. "We get to enjoy this for a day. But we have to get back and try to beat Utah."

The win moved the Nuggets (48-31) a game ahead of the Warriors in the race for eighth place with only three games left. The Nuggets also control the tiebreaker, meaning they can clinch their fifth consecutive playoff berth by winning two of their final three games.

The closing stretch begins with a trip to Utah today, followed by home games against Houston and Memphis to end the season. Now, at least, the Nuggets know they are in control and don't need to count on getting any outside help to make it back to the postseason.

"Everybody knew what was at stake," Iverson said. "It's easy for players to say it's just another game. But everybody knows it wasn't just another game. It was a game that both teams felt they had to have."

Now, Golden State (47-32) probably will need to win its final three games and hope Denver loses twice.

"They're in the catbird seat right now," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "We've got a big problem as far as making the playoffs at this particular time. We're going to need a lot of luck and probably have to win out."

The Nuggets erased the early deficit by scoring 19 consecutive points in the second quarter and built the lead from there, putting the back-to-back losses to Sacramento and Seattle from last weekend behind them.

The lead grew to 17 before the Warriors mounted one last run, scoring nine points in a row to cut it to 107-99 on Kelenna Azubuike's 3-pointer with just over 4 minutes to go.

Golden State had two more chances before Iverson's jumper got the lead back to 10. Iverson then hit the 3-pointer that made it 112-101 with 2:06 to go, icing the game.



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