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'Melo sparks third-quarter spurt; K-Mart hurt

DENVER (AP) -- This was one of those games the Denver Nuggets
were "supposed" to win. They had to bumble their way through two
terrible quarters before they started playing like it.

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points and triggered a big
third-quarter run for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight
Tuesday night, 97-74 over the Atlanta Hawks.

"Sometimes our starts lack urgency," coach George Karl said
about a first half in which the Nuggets committed 16 turnovers to
find themselves trailing 34-33 to the NBA's worst team.

Andre Miller had 14 points and 10 assists and Marcus Camby had
11 points and 13 rebounds to help the Nuggets match their longest
winning streak of the season. They pulled within a game of the Los
Angeles Lakers, who would get the eighth and final playoff spot in
the Western Conference if the season ended today.

"I scoreboard watch every night, but it's really too early,"
Karl said.

For the first half, the Nuggets hardly looked like a team that
should be thinking playoffs.

In fact, not much of what transpired in front of the half-packed
Pepsi Center resembled the NBA. The Nuggets and Hawks combined for
31 turnovers and 44 missed shots, and besides Kenyon Martin's
brutal -- and legal -- leveling of Royal Ivey while setting a pick,
there was nothing much for the crowd to get excited about.

While the Nuggets got better, the Hawks never did. On the day
Atlanta waived Gary Payton after he refused to report to the team
following a trade that sent Antoine Walker back to the Celtics,
Atlanta lost its ninth in a row, its 20th straight on the road and
its 46th game overall.

"It's frustrating," Al Harrington said. "We can't get over
the hump."

A microcosm of Atlanta's season came with 5½ minutes left, when
Tyronn Lue got tossed for punching Denver's Eduardo Najera after
Najera stole the ball from Lue. Lue took two roundhouse shots at
Najera -- enough to get him ejected, but not even close to enough to
get a rise out of Najera.

"Why would I want to pick a fight with a little guy," Najera
said. "It's not fair."

Lue declined comment, but Harrington defended him.

"We drive, we get pushed, there's no call on the other end, and
they get those calls and there's always an explanation for it," he
said. "I'm done with these refs. So, I understand him being
frustrated because he got fouled."

Harrington led Atlanta with 18 points. Josh Smith, who won the
slam-dunk contest here during All-Star weekend 10 days ago,
finished with nine points and spent part of the night jawing with
coach Mike Woodson, who wasn't happy with the rookie's attitude.

Stacking this win on top of Sunday's one-point victory over New
Orleans, Denver improved to just 6-5 against the NBA's five worst
teams -- Atlanta, New Orleans, Golden State, Charlotte and Utah.

"The personality of NBA basketball is that a lot of times, you
play down to the level as much as you play up to the level" of
competition, Karl said. "It seems like we always play down to
them."

Early in the third quarter, Anthony made an 18-foot jump shot,
converted a three-point play and had an easy dunk during a 10-0 run
that gave Denver a 52-42 lead. His best play, though, came midway
through the fourth, when he thundered home a dunk off an alley-oop
pass from Miller.

It was Anthony's second strong game after he was pulled for the
last 3 minutes of regulation and all of overtime in a 97-94 win
over Memphis last Friday.

"Carmelo is a tremendously talented basketball player," Karl
said. "My desire is to get him focused and passionate about every
possession. If he does that, he'll be a great player."

Earlier in the day, Karl was named Western Conference Coach of
the Month; he went 10-4 in February and is 11-4 overall, and has
helped the Nuggets get back into the playoff hunt after their 17-25
start.

Game notes
Tom Gugliotta has played in the last two games against the
Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Last Wednesday, he was with the
Celtics. On Tuesday, he was with the Hawks, part of their trade
with Boston that also landed a first-round draft pick. ... Denver
won its second straight against Atlanta after seven straight
losses. ... The Nuggets matched their season high with 22
turnovers, 16 of which came in the first half.