DENVER -- Down by 21 points in the second quarter, the Denver Nuggets turned what had the earmarks of a lopsided loss into their biggest comeback victory of the season.
"You learn a lot about your team in those situations," said Chauncey Billups, who chipped in 14 points for the Nuggets. "You learn who's ready to fold the tent and you learn who's ready to say, 'All right, let's do what we need to do to get back in the game. I thought today we fought back. We just weren't going to let it happen."
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Nene added 18 points and Johan Petro, who stepped into Denver's starting lineup a month ago in place of injured Kenyon Martin (knee), had a season-high 14 points in helping Denver win its second in a row since a 1-5 stretch.
Petro had 12 of his points in the third quarter, including a dunk that gave the Nuggets their first lead.
"I got hot," Petro said. "The guys did a great job finding me.
"We know how important the last few games are going to be for us, so it's all about going hard performing, and trying to get the W's. We don't want to lose any more nights."
Denver improved to 50-27, the Nuggets' third consecutive 50-win season, all under coach George Karl, who has been absent the past couple weeks due to an intensifying regimen of cancer treatments.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Nuggets pulled into a tie with Utah for first place in the Northwest Division, along with tying the Jazz, Dallas and Phoenix for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. There's no word yet on when Karl will return to the bench.
"We won the game, but you don't like to start off like that," said acting head coach Adrian Dantley, 9-7 filling in for Karl. "We just can't keep continuing to do that. The guys fought back hard and played great defense, but why spot a team that many points?"
Los Angeles coach Kim Hughes said the things that went right for the Clippers started going wrong in the second half.
"We didn't make shots," he said. "We took poor outside shots, instead of going inside. We lost the game with turnovers again."
The Clippers had 20 turnovers to the Nuggets' seven. Steve Blake nearly had as many turnovers (nine) as points (12).
Denver played without one of its key reserves, forward Chris Andersen, who sat out because of a sprained left ankle sustained in the fourth quarter Thursday night against Portland. The Clippers were without guard Baron Davis (back spasms).
Travis Outlaw, who scored 12 points for the Clippers, left with a strained right groin in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Down by eight points at halftime, the Nuggets fought back to take a 65-63 lead with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter when Anthony drove the lane before passing off to Petro, who finished with a dunk.
By the time Billups drained a 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining, the Nuggets stretched their lead to 96-83.
Early on, it appeared the Clippers were going to blow out the Nuggets. Denver trailed 34-25 after the first quarter and fell behind 49-28 after Outlaw converted a four-point play with 8:07 left in the second quarter.
But the Nuggets got back into the game with a 13-2 run, pulling to 51-41 when Billups had a steal to start a fast break that Anthony finished with a jam.
A fast-break layup by Lawson cut it to 55-47 at halftime.
- Denver previously twice erased 17-point deficits this season, most recently against Sacramento on Feb. 1.
- The Nuggets have six 50-win seasons in their history.
- The Clippers haven't won in Denver since Jan. 27, 2006.
- The Clippers are 8-32 on the road after beginning the season 5-6 away from home.