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Nuggets get crucial win with playoff implications over Lakers

DENVER -- Allen Iverson knew there'd be days like this.

The Nuggets are just 27-27 since his trade from Philadelphia but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story, which includes an array of games without suspended superstar Carmelo Anthony and sharpshooter J.R. Smith and a whole mess of injuries that prevented any sort of cohesion until the last couple of weeks.

Now, the Nuggets are meshing just in time for the playoffs.

They beat the fading Los Angeles Lakers 115-111 on Monday night to stretch their winning streak to a season-best six straight games behind Carmelo Anthony's 33 points and Marcus Camby's 22 rebounds and seven blocks.

"This is probably the best time ever to get the chemistry down," Anthony said. "It couldn't come at a much better time for us."

These types of nights are beginning to make up for all those losses that A.I. endured when he first came to Colorado, fueling his critics' contention that two superstar scorers couldn't coexist for very long.

"I always felt good about my situation," Iverson said. "That was the whole big thing with me. I knew there was going to be one day when 'Melo came back and J.R. came back, and I knew that we'd be able to get into practice and get some offensive and defensive chemistry going.

"I felt I was in a better position than I was in Philadelphia, so I never lost hope or lost focus because I felt the day that we'd be playing good basketball would come," Iverson said. "I'm just happy that it's now that we're headed into the playoffs."

Anthony sealed the latest win with three free throws in the last 9 seconds and Camby cradled Kobe Bryant's errant desperation 3-pointer that would have tied it in the final seconds.

Iverson added 24 points for the Nuggets, who tightened their grip on the sixth spot in the West, moving 1 1/2 games ahead of the Lakers, who have lost six of their last eight.

"Anthony's playing extremely well, AI's playing extremely well," Bryant said. "The supporting cast is playing extremely well. They are very hot right now."

And the Lakers are very cold.

The Lakers (40-38) haven't beaten a team with a winning record since defeating Utah on Feb. 26. No other Phil Jackson-coached team has ever lost this many games in a season. They went 45-37 last year.

Even their superstar was mired in a funk Monday night.

Bryant scored 23 points, nine below his league-leading average, and missed 21 of his 30 shots. When his 3-pointer rattled out with 2.7 seconds left, Camby cradled the rebound -- his 22nd on this night and 42nd in his last two games against the Lakers -- and drew the foul.

He missed his first free throw but sank his second and Anthony swiped the long inbounds to seal Denver's win.

"He's a great rebounder," Iverson said. "He'll kill us if we get anywhere near a ball he can get his hands on. If he can get his hands on it and we touch that ball, we're going to hear about it. The ones that are long, we try to get those and the ones that are in the paint, we let Marcus get them."

Bryant made just 1-of-5 from the arc and although he made four of his five free throws, his one miss came with 1:01 left and the Lakers trailing by two.

With Denver ahead 111-109, Sasha Vujacic kicked the ball with 9.7 seconds remaining on the game clock and four on the shot clock, causing a reset and forcing the Lakers to foul Anthony, who missed one of two free throws, leaving Denver clinging to a three-point lead.

Anthony fouled Bryant with 8.3 seconds left before he could set up for a game-tying 3-pointer and Bryant sank both foul shots.

Anthony was fouled on the inbounds and also sank both of his shots, giving Denver a 114-111 lead with 7 seconds left. That's when Bryant's final 3-pointer rattled out.

The Lakers trailed 92-82 heading into the fourth quarter but stormed ahead 105-104 on Brian Cook's 3-pointer with 4:20 left, capping a 13-2 spurt that included a slam and a fadeaway by Bryant. The run was sparked by Los Angeles turning to a zone defense, which stopped Denver's penetration in the second half.

Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer after a super surge over the last six weeks, was ice cold in the first half, shooting just 4-of-12 for nine points. His first basket came with 2:59 left in the first quarter.

Game notes
Denver clinched a fourth straight winning season for the first time since joining the NBA in 1976. ... The Nuggets shot a season-high 49 free throws, making 39. ... Nuggets coach George Karl clinched his 15th straight season with a .500 record or better.