Despite their gaudy record since trading Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets still had some doubters. Some of them were eliminated Sunday.
The Nuggets won 95-90 on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers. Those would be the Lakers (55-21) who had won 17 of their previous 18 games.
The Nuggets (47-29) raised their record to 15-4 since the Feb. 22 deal in which they sent Anthony to New York and got back a bevy of assets, including forwards Wilson Chander and Danilo Gallinari and guard Raymond Felton.
During the hot stretch, the Nuggets had wins at home over top teams Boston and San Antonio. But the Celtics had just made some trades earlier in the day on Feb. 24 and were depleted, and the Spurs were without injured star Tim Duncan.
But there were no excuses able to be made Sunday by the Lakers. The two-time defending champions entered the game in championship form.
"We don't have a closer that's going to make a big-time shot, but we have guys that are ready for the challenge," Nuggets coach George Karl said of a win that was secured when forward Kenyon Martin tipped in a missed free throw by Nene for a 95-90 lead with 11 seconds remaining.
Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant said he's impressed with the Nuggets' depth since the trade and that they have five reserves who could be a starting five for many teams.
"They come at you in waves," Bryant said of the Nuggets.
The Nuggets were able to win Sunday even though they actually were missing two rotation players. Starting guard Arron Afflalo was out due to a strained left hamstring, and top big man reserve Chris Andersen was out because of a sprained right ankle.
With the win, the Nuggets clinched their eighth straight playoff berth. The only NBA teams with longer ongoing streaks are San Antonio (14) and Dallas (11), who previously had clinched berths.
NUGGETS 95, LAKERS 90: The Nuggets won Sunday on the road because they didn't get rattled down the stretch against the NBA's hottest team. Instead, it was the Lakers who got rattled, blowing a six-point lead with 10 minutes left in the game. The Lakers had won 17 of their previous 18 games. Forward Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 22 points. Guard Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 28 for the Lakers.
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