DENVER (AP)—With a running and gunning team, fans cheering wildly, and the altitude wearing opponents down, Denver was once one of the NBA’s most difficult places to play.
It’s taken some time—a long time—but that atmosphere has returned.
Rookie sensation Carmelo Anthony had 26 points and a key putback over Shawn Bradley, and Voshon Lenard made three key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Denver Nuggets hold off the Dallas Mavericks 113-103 Friday night.
“Denver is a great, great NBA city and it’s amazing that the fans have stuck with this situation here for as long as they have,” Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “The loyalty here is unbelievable and just to see the response they are giving this basketball team is just wonderful. Of course, this team wants to give that right back.”
Denver has won six of eight and at 9-6 is off to its best start since 1994-95—the last time the Nuggets were in the playoffs. And they’re doing it with the Mile-High advantage.
Using an up-tempo game that leaves opponents gasping, Denver has won five straight at home and is 7-1 there for its best start since opening the 1989-90 season 9-0. Six of the wins have come against teams that were in the playoffs last season.
“We use the altitude to our favor,” said Marcus Camby, who had 15 rebounds and a key putback in the final minute. “At the end of the night, Antoine Walker was like `I don’t know how you guys practice in this.’ I knew we had him a little bit. The altitude plays on a lot of team’s minds when they come in here.”
Denver shot 52 percent, had five players in double figures and outrebounded Dallas 47-38.
Nene had 15 points after missing five games with a strained left groin, Andre Miller added 18 points and seven assists and Lenard finished with 22 points.
“They have a lot of young guys that can play,” Dallas’ Steve Nash said. “They are up and coming.”
Michael Finley scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, including eight during an 11-0 run that helped Dallas turn a 13-point deficit in the third quarter into a 91-87 lead midway through the fourth.
Walker scored 12 of his 30 points in the second quarter and finished with 15 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Mavericks from losing to Denver for the first time in 10 games.
“I thought we battled pretty hard and we did get back in it,” Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. “I thought some of my players were tired early and the short bench hurts you there.”
Denver seemed to be in control after opening the third quarter with an 11-2 run and extending the lead to 78-65 on Earl Boykins’ 3-pointer with 3:06 left.
But Finley made sure the Nuggets didn’t run away with it.
He hit a 17-foot jump shot, followed with a free throw and ended the 10-2 run with a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer that cut Denver’s lead to 80-77.
Finely kept it going in the fourth, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and a baseline jumper to put the Mavericks up four.
But Lenard made a 3-pointer from the corner that cut Dallas’ lead to 91-90, then followed with another from the same spot after Nash hit one on the other end.
Miller answered a 12-foot-jumper by Walker with a 10-footer, then Lenard put the Nuggets up 98-96 with 3:24 left with another 3-pointer. He finished 5-for-7 on 3-pointers.
Walker followed Lenard’s last 3-pointer with a layup, but it proved to be Dallas’ last gasp.
Anthony answered with a putback over the 7-foot-6 Bradley, then Camby followed a free throw by Nene with a putback that gave the Nuggets a 105-100 lead with 46 seconds left.
“Our confidence level is real high right now,” Anthony said. “I’m not saying we can beat anybody, but we can compete with anybody. That’s one thing Iknow we can do.”
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shoved a cake in the face of Nuggets mascot Rocky in between the first and second quarters. The mascot tripped and dumped a cake on a woman in Denver’s last home game. … Denver is 8-1 when outrebounding opponents, with its only loss coming at Dallas on Nov. 22. … Dallas, which shot 42 percent, is 7-0 when shooting at least 44 percent, 3-6 when shooting below. … The Nuggets are 8-2 when they score 90 points ormore.