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Nuggets set franchise win record

The SportsXchange

DENVER - The Denver Nuggets set a franchise record for wins and home wins Sunday, but they have more work to do if they want to set themselves up for a deep run in the playoffs.

Andre Iguodala had 28 points and nine assists, and the Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 118-109 on Sunday for their 55th win of the season.

Rookie Evan Fournier scored 24 points as Denver won its 22nd straight at home and 37ths overall at Pepsi Center.

Damian Lillard scored a game-high 30 points and J.J. Hickson had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers, who have lost 11 straight.

Denver's celebration for its franchise-record 55th win was muted, though. The win keeps the Nuggets a game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for third place in the Western Conference, but they need one win in their last two games to clinch at least fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"Usually when you win 55 you separate yourself, so I'm still my nervous self and worried self," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "You have four teams you could play, and it probably won't be determined until Wednesday at 8 or 9 o'clock."

The Nuggets can clinch the No. 3 seed by winning their last two games - Monday in Milwaukee and Wednesday against Phoenix.

"It shows you've got to play it to the end," said Iguodala, who also had seven rebounds. "Now we have the opportunity to seal it up. It's in our hands to take advantage of what's in front of us and we've got to do it."

But the news wasn't all good for Denver. The Nuggets were already dealing with the loss of second-leading scorer Danilo Gallinari when Kenneth Faried crumbled to the floor after going up for a layup on Sunday. Faried didn't put any weight on his left ankle as he was helped off the court just 2:40 into the game.

X-rays were negative and the Nuggets said Faried is day to day. He left the arena on crutches and won't make the trip to Milwaukee.

"We're dropping like flies, man. It's not too serious I've heard," point guard Ty Lawson said. "He'll probably be out for a week or something like that. He's a tough guy and he'll be ready for the playoffs."

Losing Faried would be another blow to Denver's depth, which has been a strength this season. Denver has gone nine deep at times this season, but with Gallinari's ACL tear 10 days ago and Lawson's strained heel/plantar fascia tear in his right foot, the Nuggets have had to patch together lineups in the final two weeks.

Lawson had a strong game in his return to the starting lineup. He finished with 12 points and 10 assists in 31 minutes. It was his second game after missing five straight and eight of nine.

"I couldn't have asked for a better script these past two games," Karl said. "I thought Ty was pretty good in Dallas and was better tonight. I can't ask for much than that."

Even without Faried the Nuggets survived against the Blazers. The Nuggets led by 16 at the end of the first quarter and 67-50 at half.

The lead grew to 83-63 late in the third quarter, but the Blazers didn't go away despite having four rookies in the starting lineup. Down 98-84, the Blazers went on a 12-2 run to get within four. Portland narrowed the gap to 104-101 on Hickson's free throw with 3:33 left.

"We really gained a lot of confidence when we made some stops, got some steals and got some easy buckets," Lillard said. "We started to believe we could win this game."

The Nuggets responded. Lawson had two layups and hit two free throws, then a 3-pointer by Fournier made the score 111-102 with 2:40 left.

"I liked the way we stayed with it in the second half, cut it to four, but Ty Lawson just made some plays we didn't have answers for," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

Portland is two losses shy of the franchise record of 13 straight defeats. With games left against the playoff-bound Clippers and Golden State, the Blazers could match that mark as well as extend their home losing streak to eight.

NOTES: Portland's Wes Matthews has now missed three straight games and Nicolas Batum six. LaMarcus Aldridge missed his second straight. ... Karl said this year's Denver team can be special with a strong finish, which started with Sunday's game. "I do idealistic, I do realistic and I do pessimistic predictions before the season," Karl said of his expectations. "If we'd win two out of these three games we'd be above my idealistic predictions." ... The Blazers' young players are getting a chance to show what they can do in the final few games, which Stotts said is motivation for them. "All those guys are getting an opportunity that they didn't get during the season because we were competitive," Stotts said. "Those guys aren't having any trouble getting up and playing these games." ... Denver has won nine straight and 23 of its last 25 home games against Portland.
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