DENVER (AP)—It took a halftime tirade from George Karl to make sure the Denver Nuggets didn’t end the regular season with a three-game losing streak.
Sparked by their fiery coach, the Nuggets ended their best regular season in 17 years with a 119-115 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night for their 12th consecutive home win.
“That’s the sign of a great coach,” Denver’s DerMarr Johnson said. “We understand that we need to put together a good half before we go into the playoffs. We were all down and we came back, we responded.”
Short-handed and with nothing to play for—Game 1 of the first round is Sunday in San Antonio—Denver came out flat, with plenty of turnovers and defensive breakdowns to trail by 14 at halftime.
The Nuggets then pulled things together in the third quarter and ended on a high note after losing their previous two games by a combined 42 points.
“It was animated, it was a little angry,” Karl said of his speech. “I think they responded pretty well defensively, a pretty decent defensive team in the second half. The first half, I have no idea. I was yelling at myself ‘Did I teach them how to play defense like this?”’
Denver finished 32-8 under Karl, giving him an .800 winning percentage—the best ever by a coach who took over an NBA team in midseason.
Carmelo Anthony had 36 points and 13 rebounds and Earl Boykins had 24 points — 18 in the second half—and 12 assists. Nene added 21 points and 13 rebounds, helping Denver finish 49-33 for its best season since going 54-28 in 1987-88.
“It all starts now, the playoffs,” Anthony said.
Darius Miles had a career-high 47 points—10 on five vicious dunks—for Portland, which has its most losses (54) since 1973-74 with one game left. The Trail Blazers finished 9-32 on the road, their worst record away from Portland since they were 5-36 in 1973-74.
“It would have been extra good with a win, but it is the end of the season,” Miles said. “There is really nothing to prove. We were playing against a playoff team, so I didn’t expect to do something like this.”
Denver played without center Marcus Camby (hamstring), power forward Kenyon Martin (knee) and backup forward Eduardo Najera (hand), then lost point guard Andre Miller for the second half when his back stiffened up.
But like they have over the latter part of the season, the Nuggets rallied.
Denver was much more aggressive at both ends after Karl’s speech, using a 17-3 run midway through the third quarter to get back into it. The Nuggets took their first lead, 85-84, on DerMarr’s Johnson’s two free throws with 1:44 left, and Boykins followed with a nearly impossible, off-balance three-point play.
Neither team led by more than four after that, and it came down to who could hit the big shots.
Boykins put the Nuggets up 108-106 with a runner in the lane with just over two minutes left, then Greg Buckner scored inside on a transition play. Ruben Patterson answered with a dunk to cut it to two, but Wesley Person then dropped in a 3-pointer from the corner and Anthony broke out for a layup to make it 115-108 with 33 seconds left.
“Halftime everybody was down,” Anthony said. “Coach came in and was yelling and everything, and then we calmed back down. It worked.”
Miles finished the second quarter with 24 points and had 32 in the half— one more than his career-high.
“My teammates were getting me the ball,” Miles said. “I didn’t even look at the scoreboard until I had 44. I didn’t know how many points I had at the half, and guys were saying I could score 50. I thought, I’m not going to score 30 more points. I thought I had like, 20.”
Portland F Shareef Abdur-Rahim was ejected early in the third quarter after receiving his second technical foul for arguing calls. … Najera will get his cast off on Friday, but the Nuggets aren’t sure when he’ll return. … Denver’s home winning streak is its longest since 1989.