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Melo's 19 lead seven Nuggets in double figures

DENVER (AP) -- Their second straight playoff appearance secured,
the Denver Nuggets can start looking for ways to fine tune.

They might want to start with playing better in the second half.

The Nuggets raced out to big lead early, then let New Orleans
back in it in the third quarter before pulling away down the
stretch for a 116-102 victory over the Hornets on Wednesday night.

It still amounted to Denver's season-high ninth straight win and
its 23rd in 25 games, but allowing an overmatched opponent back
into a game that was headed for a blowout isn't exactly what the
Nuggets want with the playoffs a little over a week away.

"We let up. That team has nothing to play for, they are playing
loose, and we played like the game was already over," said
Denver's DerMarr Johnson, who had 11 points. "It's difficult to
stay focused for a team like that. But it shouldn't be. We don't
want to go into the first round and play like this."

Of course, that they won despite have a letdown shows just how
well the Nuggets are playing.

Denver (47-31) has won 10 straight home games and matched the
fifth-most wins in franchise history, moving 16 games over .500 for
the first time since finishing the 1987-88 season 54-28.

Certainly, there were good signs against the Hornets.

Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points to lead seven players in double
figures. Marcus Camby had another superb all-around game, with six
points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and two steals.

Earl Boykins played at his usual frenetic pace, and had 16
points and 11 assists. Wesley Person hit three key first-half
3-pointers and had 17 points, while Nene added 14 points and Kenyon
Martin had 12, helping the Nuggets shoot 50 percent.

That's all great, but it still wasn't as easy as it should have
been against an injury-plagued team that has the worst record in
the Western Conference.

"I don't think we were bored with the game, but at times it
looked like we were," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "It's not a
good honesty to have in the game because the game should be fun.
You don't want to accept what happened tonight, but there is a
degree of understanding."

Short-handed and tired from playing on consecutive nights, the
Hornets seemed a step slow all night in losing their fifth
straight.

New Orleans played its fourth straight game without Chris
Andersen (ankle) and Jamaal Magloire (back), and didn't have
playmaker Dan Dickau because of a sore shoulder. J.R. Smith tried
to pick up the slack with 25 points, but he didn't score after the
third quarter.

"It was a tough situation," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
"We didn't have any guys, we have so many injuries, and when you
are playing the hottest team in the league the odds are stacked
against you."

The Nuggets tried to steamroll New Orleans from the start.

Anthony scored six points during an opening 11-4 run. Person
then scored eight points in a 16-4 run that put the Nuggets up
33-20, then added his third 3-pointer 2:15 into the second quarter.

Boykins provided his usual spark off the bench, pushing the pace
at every chance, hitting jumpers and breaking out for layups. He
had 10 points in the second quarter, helping the Nuggets build a
67-42 halftime lead.

New Orleans couldn't get much going offensively early, in part
because Camby was taking up so much space in the lane. He blocked
four shots in the first half and changed several others, never
giving the Hornets much chance to make a run.

New Orleans had even more problems on defense.

Playing at their usual frenetic pace, the Nuggets repeatedly
beat the Hornets down the court for layups and quick shots. Even
when things slowed down, Denver was still on target, hitting 14 of
19 shots in the first quarter and shooting 66 percent in the half.

The Nuggets just couldn't keep it up after the break.

"I was done at halftime," Martin said. "I'm not even lying. I
was done at halftime. I was mentally drained."

Denver's letup allowed the Hornets to make a run, thanks to
Smith.

The rookie from St. Benedict's Prep scored 11 points during an
opening 17-4 run that cut Denver's lead to 71-57, then hit an
improbable offbalance jumper to complete a three-point play. He
finished the quarter with 19 points, but Denver still led 91-77.

The Nuggets pulled away midway through the fourth quarter,
leading a fan behind New Orleans' bench to yell "Call the Game!"

"I think we played in spurts, but if we are going to be a
contender we have to be consistent for all 48 minutes," Hornets
center P.J. Brown said. "That is something we haven't shown this
year."

Game notes
Nuggets G Greg Buckner didn't play because of a sore hand,
the same one he broke two weeks ago. ... Camby has 193 blocks this
season, a career high.