NBA Playoffs: Nuggets 124, Mavericks 110
by Arnie Stapleton
DENVER ó The Denver Nuggets are leaving all the animosity with the Dallas Mavericks’ players, fans and owner behind and heading to their first Western Conference finals since 1985.
Behind 30 points from Carmelo Anthony and 28 from Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets beat the Mavericks 124-110 on Wednesday night to wrap up their semifinal series in five feisty games.
The Nuggets, who are 8-2 in the playoffs after tying their franchise record with a 54-win regular season, will face either Los Angeles or Houston for the conference championship.
“It’s special. We worked hard in the offseason and training camp and throughout,” Anthony said. “We stuck to everything, we overcame adversity, we stayed humble and our hard work paid off.
Winners of 16 straight games at the Pepsi Center, where no opponent has won since March 9, the Nuggets would start their next series on the road if the Lakers win, and at home if Houston does. The Lakers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 Thursday night in Houston.
The Nuggets didn’t dare dream of this type of success when the season began in November following the departures of defensive stalwarts Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera.
Then came the biggest trade in team history, Allen Iverson to Detroit for Billups, who turned his hometown team from an afterthought into a championship contender after leading the Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference finals and the NBA championship in 2004.
“He’s a leader,” Anthony said of Billups. “He came on this team and he brought a businesslike attitude to our team. He brought a defensive mind-set.”
Fired up from the ugliness on and off the court in Dallas in Games 3 and 4, the Nuggets came out in front of their home crowd with a passion and shot 64 percent in the first half while building a 69-55 lead.
The Mavericks wouldn’t go down easily, though, making five straight 3-pointers, three by Jason Kidd, to pull within 79-72.
The Mavericks were within 103-97 with 7 minutes left but Anthony took the inbounds pass and with 2 seconds on the shot clock, hit a turnaround 25-foot jumper at the buzzer. Antoine Wright was assessed a technical and Billups’ free throw made it a 10-point game with 6:35 left.
The Mavs didn’t have another run in them, and their season ground to a halt much sooner than they expected after dispatching San Antonio in five games in the first round.
Dirk Nowitzki had his usual monster game, scoring 32 points ó he averaged 34.4 in the series.