DENVER -- Renaldo Balkman to the rescue, of all people.
"It was one of my best games, a double-double, play good and we come out with a win," said Balkman, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds for his first double-double since Feb. 1, 2008, when he was with the New York Knicks.
Balkman provided the energy and efficiency that's been so elusive to the Nuggets, who won for just the fourth time in 12 games.
With Kenyon Martin's bad back putting him in street clothes again, Nuggets coach George Karl needed some size in his starting lineup, so he inserted Balkman.
"He called my name this morning at shootaround, and I told myself I had to go home and take a long nap and get a good lunch, and I did just that," Balkman said. "I came in here with the mind-set that I'm going to get every board that goes up."
Thunder interim coach Scott Brooks expected just that kind of performance when he saw Karl's makeshift starting five. After all, Denver's 6-1 with Balkman in the starting lineup.
"Those type of guys, you don't judge them by their stats, although he did have a good stat game tonight. He's an energy guy, an intangible guy," Brooks said. "He makes a lot of winning plays for them. I've been watching him, he's been terrific for them."
Denver's win guaranteed Karl his 17th straight non-losing season. He surpassed Red Auerbach and Jerry Sloan for the third-longest such streak in NBA history, trailing only Pat Riley (19) and Phil Jackson (18-active).
"The championship is still my driven desire," said Karl, who has yet to hoist the golden ball. "Someday, somewhere. Maybe I have to go to Alaska or Russia to win a championship. But I think the second thing is to be able to say every year you deliver some excellence to the game of basketball."
Carmelo Anthony led seven Nuggets in double figures with 22 points. Jeff Green's 19 points led the Thunder, who had won five of six since losing leading scorer Kevin Durant to an ankle injury. Earl Watson added 18 points for Oklahoma City.
The Nuggets' funk dropped them out of first place in the Northwest Division this week for the first time since early December and put them behind both Utah and Portland heading into the final month of the season.
The Nuggets, however, figure the schedule favors them. This was the first of six straight opponents who will bring a losing record to the Pepsi Center. But Martin's bad back puts a big question mark on their ability to finish strong and earn home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time since 1988.
"It's not going to be easy," Karl said. "A lot of these teams are really playing with no stress and no pressure, and we're playing with probably the most stress and most pressure we've had all year long."
Martin, who played 24 minutes against Houston on Monday night after missing three games, was back on the bench after aggravating his bad back.
Nuggets backup point guard Anthony Carter returned from a four-game absence caused by a sore left hip, and he dished out a season-high 12 assists in 26 minutes.
Nobody benefited more from Carter's return than Linas Kleiza, who scored 20 points in one of the better nights of his disappointing season that began with the Nuggets pulling a four-year, $25 million contract offer off the table last fall.
"It was good to have A.C. back," Kleiza said after his best scoring output in 19 games. "He creates a lot of easy opportunities. I had struggled a little, went through a rough patch the last 10, 15 games."
With Martin on the bench, Karl gave the defensive-minded Balkman a rare start along with J.R. Smith, his sixth man who usually provides a scoring spark off the bench.
That left the Nuggets without much of a bench beyond swingman Chris Andersen, who strained his right calf when Robert Swift toppled over him while they were going for a loose ball with 9:37 left before halftime. He went to the locker room but returned before halftime and finished the game with 10 points and four blocked shots.
The Thunder were without center Nick Collison (groin) for the second straight night. ... The Nuggets' three-game losing streak matched their longest skid of the season.