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Publish Date: 4/20/2005

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Denver Nuggets teammates Carmelo Anthony and Greg Buckner celebrate Tuesday’s victory over Portland in the closing seconds.AP/Jack Dempsey

Season ends on up note


DENVER — The dark jerseys said Trail Blazers, but the Denver Nuggets were thinking Spurs.

At least in the first half.

Tuesday’s final curtain on the 2004-05 regular season came down in a 119-115 win for Denver. Now all eyes are on San Antonio. The Nuggets (49-33) start their first-round series Sunday at 6

p.m. Tuesday’s win helped repair the psyche of a team that lost its swagger during two blowout losses this week.

Denver entered the last three games of the regular season with an outside chance at the fifth seed in the Western Conference, but settled for seventh after losing to Houston by 28 and to Phoenix by 14.

As disappointing as it was to not get at least sixth, head coach George Karl reminded everyone how far the Nuggets have come since the All-Star break.

“If you gave me Phoenix and San Antonio, two months ago if you said we could have either one, we would have celebrated either one,” he said.

The Nuggets finished the regular season 32-8 after Karl took over, and were 25-4 since the All-Star break. Their 49 wins are the most since the 1987-88 season, the last time they won a division title.

However, they needed a strong second half against Portland to end the season on a winning note. The Nuggets started flat and allowed Darius Miles to score a career-high 32 points — in the first half. His 14 of 18 shooting staked the Blazers to a 70-56 halftime lead in game that had barely more meaning than an NIT contest.

George Karl didn’t think that way. At halftime, he got loud with his team.

“He was pretty pissed off,” guard DerMarr Johnson said. “He didn’t threaten two-a-days, but he said we can’t play like this. We have to have some pride.”

They did. Denver outscored Portland, 34-18, in the third quarter and led, 90-88, heading into a seesaw fourth quarter. The Nuggets took the lead for good when Earl Boykins hit a running 7-footer in the lane to put them up, 108-106, with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left. He finished with 24 points and 12 assists.

“Guys were in shock,” Boykins said of the halftime mood. “They’re a high-powered team, and the way Darius was scoring — how easy he was scoring — was unbelievable.”

The Nuggets held him to 5-for-15 shooting in the second half.

“This is a pride game,” said Carmelo Anthony, who had his second straight 36-point game to go along with 13 rebounds. “(Karl) didn’t really care if we won or lost the game, he just wanted to see how we were going to come out defensively. What our mindset was.

“We wanted to make the second half an indication of Sunday’s game.”

That’s all they care about now, and with more important things ahead, Karl did play it somewhat safe. Andre Miller played only 15 minutes and sat out the second half after his lower back tightened.

Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Eduardo Najera spent the last game of the season on the injured list. Camby was put there Monday to let his strained right hamstring recover. Martin (left knee) and Najera (right hand) were placed on the injured list Tuesday.

Camby and Martin were there for precautionary reasons — they’re both expected to play Sunday night — but Najera was on the list for a more serious reason. He fractured a bone in his right hand Monday, and he wore a big cast on the hand Tuesday. He said he will wear it until Friday, when he will be reevaluated. His status for Game 1 is up in the air.

By then, the Nuggets will be well-versed in what the Spurs can do, although they have a pretty good idea right now “They’re a good defensive team,” said Martin, who played against the Spurs in the 2002 NBA Finals when he was with New Jersey. “We’re up to the challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.

“We just had a good run. We’re ready to play.”

Tip-ins: Mark Pope and Luis Flores were activated to take the roster spots of Najera and Martin, but neither got into Tuesday’s game. … Voshon Lenard, who missed 79 games after tearing his left Achilles’ tendon in the season opener, received a warm welcome from the capacity crowd when he entered the game in the second quarter.

It was the first time he played at the Pepsi Center this season. ... Nene had 21 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday.

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