Pacers 103, Nuggets 94

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DENVER (AP)—Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle warned his team not to take the Denver Nuggets lightly.

Jermaine O’Neal had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and the Pacers and won their fifth straight game and clinched a playoff berth with a 103-94 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday night.

“I told them it wasn’t going to be easy coming off of what happened to them last night,” Carlisle said referring to Denver’s 97-66 loss to Detroit on Saturday. “And it was a team that showed some real fight tonight.”

Anthony Johnson added 21 points for the Pacers, who shot 50 percent and clinched their seventh consecutive playoff spot. They made the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 years.

“This is a mature team,” O’Neal said. “We focus and we know what the task is at hand.”

Carmelo Anthony had 29 points for Denver. Voshon Lenard and Andre Miller had 12 each for the Nuggets, who have lost three straight and eight of their last nine.

“This was a tough loss for us,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “They are all tough because this is the first time where many of us have gone through the experience where every game was a critical game.”

Denver got within 90-88 on Anthony’s layup, but O’Neal muscled a shot over Francisco Elson and hit the free throw with 1:36 left. The Nuggets never got closer than four points the rest of the way as the Pacers sank 10 of 11 free throws.

“Really it was (Ron) Artest and Jermaine making great passes out of the post for wide-open shots that got AJ going. Then when they went to single coverage, Jermaine was just too much for them to handle down there.”

Trailing by 11, Anthony had two dunks and eight points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, with Denver cutting the deficit to 85-77. The Pacers went scoreless on their next four possessions, and Earl Boykins sank two free throws to make it 85-82.

O’Neal ended a three-minute scoring drought with a jumper.

Miller’s layup off a steal got the Nuggets to 88-86 with 2:57 remaining. Johnson countered with a jumper off a bank shot.

“In the second half we competed,” Anthony said of the comeback. “But when you get down by 22 points, you have to play perfect the rest of the way.”

Johnson had five points, including a 3-pointer early, and Indiana extended its lead to 65-43.

Boykins made it 75-65 with a 3-pointer with 1:21 left in the third quarter. Indiana took a 79-68 lead into the fourth quarter on Ron Artest’s two free throws in the last 30 seconds.

With the Nuggets doubling down on O’Neal, Johnson buried three long jumpers late in the second period to help the Pacers take a 53-41 lead into halftime. Earlier, Denver had a 9-0 run, five from Anthony, that drew the Nuggets within 33-31.

Anthony, 3-for-6 in the quarter, had a reverse layup to make it 38-33 before Johnson accounted for Indiana’s next six points. The Pacers closed the second quarter with five points from Reggie Miller, a finger-roll layup by Artest and a 12-point lead.

Lenard had 10 points, at one point hitting four straight shots, but the Nuggets trailed 29-22 after one quarter.

Notes

O’Neal drew a technical after throwing the ball off the basketball standard. … The win gave the Pacers 47, the most in the NBA. Sacramento won its 46th by beating Orlando 107-90. … The Pacers are 18-6 vs. the Western Conference. … Denver is 9-10 on the second night of back-to-back games. TheNuggets scored 94 points after having 66 on Saturday against Detroit.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Indiana
J. O'Neal J. O'Neal
12-24,  31 Pts
10 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Denver
C. Anthony C. Anthony
13-26,  29 Pts
8 Rebs, 1 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists