DENVER - Call them the first-place Denver Nuggets — and call them lucky. The Nuggets got the fortuitous bounces — if not the calls — in the frantic, and seemingly endless, final 11 seconds at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night to escape with a gift 90-89 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and move into the top spot in the NBA’s Northwest Division. “I think the karma’s changed. We’re winning the close ones,” coach George Karl said after LeBron James missed the second of two free throws that would have tied the game with 0.6 of a second remaining in regulation, followed by Alan Henderson’s failed tip-in at the buzzer that would have won the game for Cleveland. “We don’t always make the plays, but the ball bounces the right way.” Denver’s third consecutive victory, an uncharacteristically slowpaced performance, coupled with the Timberwolves’ loss in Boston, enabled the 21-19 Nuggets to join the Broncos and Avalanche brethren at the top of their respective divisions. But that first-place status was in doubt throughout the second half. Early in the game, the Cavaliers looked like a team that had lost four straight coming in. They fell behind 28-14 at the end of the first quarter, but eventually found a way to stop Denver’s leagueleading fast-break, holding the Nuggets to a season-low five points off the break. The visitors eventually took a sixpoint lead in the third quarter, with Eduardo Najera the only effective Nugget (season-high 16 points and 12 rebounds). His off-balance 3-point shot at the buzzer helped Denver regain a 71-70 lead going into the final 12 minutes. From that point, neither team held more than a three-point lead, and it was tied at 87 when Carmelo Anthony’s baseline drive with 22 seconds remaining gave Denver the lead for good. But it still was far from over. The Cavs’ Sasha Pavlovic missed a pair of free throws that would have tied it with 12 seconds on the clock. Najera hit one of two free throws to restore a three-point lead, 90-87, with four seconds left, so when James went to the line with two seconds remaining, he intentionally missed the second of two free throws to try to get the rebound. He did that, and was fouled by Kenyon Martin (16 points, 17 rebounds), giving the Cavaliers another chance to tie. James made the first free throw, but his next shot kicked out above the rim. Henderson raced in for the tip, and got his hand on it, but that, too, rolled out. “I just told him (LeBron), ‘miss one for me,’” said Anthony, who scored 17 points for the Nuggets. “He gave me one.” “We got it done,” Najera added. “We did it the hard way — again.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0250 or email@example.com
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