LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers were sloppy with the ball and they still have plenty of kinks to work out.
For the final 6:44, though, they were good enough.
"I'm pleased with what we were able to do down the stretch in the fourth quarter, both offensively and defensively," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We've got to try and build on it."
The Nuggets, opening their season, were without star Carmelo Anthony most of the second half. He was ejected after drawing two technicals in a three-minute span early in the third quarter.
"We could have done it. We lost 'Melo, but we were still in the game. It hurt us not having him in there," said Denver's Kenyon Martin, who had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Los Angeles rallied from an 82-72 deficit midway through the final quarter, with Cassell scoring 14 in the period and Tim Thomas making three 3-pointers in the final 2:38 of his first home game for the Clippers.
Thomas, signed as a free agent during the offseason, came off the bench and shot 5-of-11 from 3-point range to finish with 21 points.
Marcus Camby had 16 points and 18 rebounds for Denver, and J.R. Smith led the Nuggets with 21 points.
A 20-footer by Denver's Earl Boykins bounced off the rim, and the Clippers rebounded as time expired.
Cassell's free throws came only six seconds after a costly turnover in the backcourt.
Smith bumped into Cassell after the Clippers' guard had taken the inbounds pass, but no foul was called. Cassell, off balance, couldn't control the ball and Smith grabbed it and drove for a layup that gave Denver a 95-94 lead with 18 seconds remaining.
The 37-year-old Cassell then took an off-balance jumper that missed, but Yakhouba Diawara was whistled for fouling him on the shot and Cassell made the decisive free throws.
Los Angeles eliminated the Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs last season, the first postseason series win for the Clippers franchise in 30 years.
When Anthony left, angrily pulling his jersey off and tossing it into the air as he walked down the hall to the locker room, the Clippers were up 56-54 with 8:22 left in the third. He was the Nuggets' leading scorer at the time with 15 points, all in the first half.
He drew his first technical after he was called for a foul 45 seconds into the third period, then was tossed shortly afterward for arguing a charging call against him -- his fourth personal foul of the game.
"Defensively, we didn't have to rotate as much because he's such a big body for our 2s and 3s to guard that we have to help so much on him," said the Clippers' Elton Brand, who took just nine shots and scored eight points. "He's also one of their best shooters - mid-range and long-range.
"So defensively, we tried to get him in foul trouble and I think that's what helped frustrate him a little bit."
Anthony was not available for comment after the game.
The NBA, trying to eliminate complaints and other reactions after calls, is clamping down on such behavior this season. There is no new rule, but players and coaches were alerted during the preseason that such reactions would no longer be tolerated.
- Detroit's Rasheed Wallace and Sacramento's Mike Bibby were ejected Wednesday night for their reactions to calls.
- The Clippers took the regular-season series 3-1 last season, then eliminated the Nuggets in five games of their first-round playoff matchup.