SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Kings had just completed a successful road trip that Reggie Theus thought raised their confidence. Then, a meltdown of major proportions.
"If it doesn't hurt, then you're brain dead," Theus said. "It's supposed to hurt or you don't care. It's supposed to sting."
The Kings kept giving Denver extra chances, like when Brad Miller bricked two free throws with 16.5 seconds left. After Allen Iverson drove and missed from close, Marcus Camby tipped the ball and Kleiza got possession, hitting the shot from the left wing while falling away under pressure.
"I just looked up at the clock and saw it was two seconds left, shot it up and it went in," Kleiza said.
Carmelo Anthony had 30 points and 12 rebounds, Camby added 19 points, 14 boards and three blocked shots, and Iverson had his streak of four straight 30-point performances end, finishing with 21.
But Iverson, who shot just 6-for-21, almost single handily brought the Nuggets back. His layin off his own steal with 9:13 to play pulled the Nuggets within 93-87, then he hit a 3-pointer at the 3:24 mark that made it 101-97. His 3-point play with 2:10 left cut Sacramento's lead to 103-100.
"I was having such a bad game that I thought I hit the last shot," Iverson said. "'K' hit that shot and I was forever smiling. That was a lucky shot."
Ron Artest scored 24 points and made a key basket with 2:29 remaining, and also had nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Miller added 22 points, eight boards and four assists, but the Kings couldn't overcome their errors in crunch time.
Camby traveled with 1:10 to go and his team down by one, and Beno Udrih swished a 12-footer on the other end moments later. Kleiza missed a 3 on Denver's next possession and Anthony's rebound attempt went off his hand out of bounds, giving Sacramento the ball back with 37.8 seconds on the clock.
Udrih missed two free throws with 36.5 seconds remaining as the Nuggets got another chance, needing a timeout at 22 seconds after Iverson was trapped along the sideline. Anthony drove past Artest for a basket to make it 105-104 and Sacramento took a timeout.
Sacramento had won three of its last four during a recent five-game road swing -- scoring more than 100 points in each of those victories.
The Kings were rolling in this one, too. They led by as many as 16, but shot 8-for-18 in the fourth quarter and didn't defend in the paint -- not to mention nearly doubling their turnovers with seven of Sacramento's 15 coming in the final 12 minutes.
"This one hurts. We've got to put it behind us somehow," guard Francisco Garcia said. "I don't remember in the last three years one that hurts like this. We were playing so good, too."
Artest made his first five shots with a 3-pointer to score 11 of his team's first 20 points. He also had two rebounds and an assist in the opening four minutes as Sacramento built an early 10-point lead.
Nuggets coach George Karl shook up his lineup, going with Yakhouba Diawara to defend Artest, who himself drew the tough defensive challenge in Anthony. Eduardo Najera was soon moved onto Artest, and Anthony also took part. Artest shot 10-for-16 but was held to two points in the fourth.
"It's good for our team to win this type of game," Karl said. "We don't play very well, then steal one on the road while we are short-handed, shows a lot of good things to me."
Sacramento hit 11 of its first 16 shots, had seven assists leading to those baskets and didn't commit its first turnover until Quincy Douby's offensive foul at the 8:14 mark of the second quarter.
Sacramento had eight first-half steals to none for Denver and led 66-51 at the break despite being outrebounded 27-23. The Kings were outboarded 53-46 overall.
"That's a pretty good Christmas present for those guys," Theus said. "We outplayed them. We missed free throws down the stretch -- that's the bottom line."
Camby started the game after Karl had expected him to sit. He missed Friday's game at Portland with a contusion in the middle of his back sustained the previous night against Houston.
The Nuggets were coming off a 99-96 loss to the Trail Blazers in which they were outscored 30-20 in the fourth quarter after heading into the final period up 76-69 -- but changed the outcome this time.
Denver's Kenyon Martin missed his second straight game with a strained right hamstring, which he injured Thursday at home against Houston.
- Iverson had scored 30 or more points in six of eight games.
- Denver is 5-7 on the road.
- The Kings' lion mascot named Slamson held mistletoe above officials Ron Olesiak and Violet Palmer during the first timeout and they obliged with a festive smooch.
- The Kings also had a turnover-free quarter on Dec. 1 against Houston, in the second.