Nuggets close out Hornets, Hawks beat Heat take 3-2 lead
Los Angeles - After years of frustration, Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets are celebrating a Rocky Mountain High.
Anthony scored a career-playoff high 34 points, J. R. Smith added 20 and the Nuggets rocked the New Orleans Hornets 107-86 at home on Wednesday to wrap up their Western Conference opening-round playoff series in five games.
Denver had lost five consecutive first-round series before advancing for the first time since 1994.
"The monkey is awfully heavy sometimes," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I'm really happy for 'Melo.'"
"It's been a long time, five years, man," Anthony said. "I've been on the other side of the fence where New Orleans is now. For me to be at this point, winning my first playoff series is a lot of emotion.
"We worked hard for this moment," he added. "We're going to soak this one in. We'll take the night, celebrate and go back to work."
The Nuggets will host the Dallas Mavericks in Game One on Sunday in the conference semifinals. The Mavericks eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in five games, but were swept 4-0 in the season series against the Nuggets.
"Dallas is a very good team, they're playing in a very good mode," Karl said. "But I like my team."
Kenyon Martin scored 17 while Chauncey Billups finished with 13 points and 11 assists for the Nuggets, who outscored their guests 58-37 in the second half.
"They played exactly how we talked about," Billups said. "They were going to come out, fight and scrap do everything they can to make it a game. Tie game at halftime we said, it's playing out like we like it. Get aggressive, make a run and run away from them."
The game was knotted at 49 at intermission, and 62-midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets closed on an 18-4 run to take control. Billups hit a three-pointer, Smith followed with a pair of triples and Anthony scored the last seven for an 80-66 advantage.
Martin and Anthony opened the final stanza with baskets, Billups added two free throws, and the sold out Pepsi Centre crowd roared with approval as their hometown heroes were moving on, not out of the first round..
David West led the Hornets with 24 points and Chris Paul had 12 points and 10 assists.
Elsewhere Atlanta Hawks 106, Miami Heat 91 Joe Johnson scored 25 points, Flip Murray added a career playoff high 23 off the bench and the Hawks pounded the visiting Heat, to take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
"Joe finally had a break-out game tonight, and Flip was huge," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "Everybody just filled in around those two guys and made plays offensively."
The Hawks can advance to the second-round for the first time in a decade as the best-of-seven series shifts to Miami on Friday night.
"We know where our focus has to be, and that's to go down there and close this thing out," Johnson said. "We have to go in with the attitude that we can win. It's going to be a tough game but we're up for the challenge."
Josh Smith had 20, Mike Bibby contributed 17 for the Hawks, who outscored their guests 39-20 on 13-of-16 shooting in the second quarter for a commanding 63-40 halftime cushion.
In a bruising contest, marred by four technical fouls and a flagrant, Heat star Dwyane Wade went to the locker room in the opening minutes after banging his head on the court in a collision with Smith.
He returned, but Hawks forward Al Horford limped off the floor with a right ankle sprain after taking a hard foul from James Jones on a drive to the basket late in the second quarter. His status is uncertain for Game Six.
"The physicality is what it is, it's playoff basketball," Woodson said. "I don't want our guys to shy away from it, and I don't want them complaining. They're (referees) letting us play and bang."
Wade, already suffering from back spasms, and the bang on the head scored 29, including 23 in the second half to pace Miami, which will look to avoid elimination at home on Friday.
"They kicked our butts pretty much every which way possible you could in a basketball game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "At the end it turned into a pickup game highlight reel, really trying to embarrass us.
"They came in and did a number on us," he added. "The only thing that could be better than this is bringing this back here for Game Seven on Sunday.