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Nuggets hammer Timberwolves; face Lakers in first round

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Associated Press
4/26/2012 10:40:48 PM
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Denver Nuggets earned themselves another post-season date with the Los Angeles Lakers. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are going home for another long summer and Brad Miller is going home for good.

JaVale McGee scored 19 points to help the Nuggets lock down the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 131-102 victory over the Timberwolves on Thursday night.

Arron Afflalo scored 18 points and Danilo Gallinari had 17 points for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight game and eighth in their last 10 as they surge into the post-season. Game 1 is Sunday at Staples Center.

"I'm just excited about being in the playoffs and I plan on playing as hard as I have since I've been in Denver," McGee said. "As long as we go out and play like we have been playing, we should be fine."

The Nuggets entered the game needing a win or a loss by Dallas in Atlanta to lock down the No. 6 seed in the West. Had they lost and Dallas won in Atlanta, the Nuggets would have faced No. 2 seed Oklahoma City in the first round.

It's not immediately clear if getting the sixth seed was a good thing for Denver. The Nuggets lost three of their four meetings with the Lakers this season and have never beaten them in six previous playoff series, the last one being a loss in the 2009 Western Conference finals.

"It's good and bad," coach George Karl said. "It's good that we did what we wanted to do from a standpoint of playing the right way and playing the season out hard. You get to play a championship calibre team and they have the home court."

Denver does seem to be playing some of its best basketball after a rough couple of weeks integrating McGee in the trade that sent longtime centre Nene to Washington. The super-athletic McGee has scored in double figures in the last four games and his 19 points on Thursday night were his most in a Nuggets uniform.

"Where we were when we made the trade in the first week in March, to get to this point, I think it's a pretty spectacular performance from our guys," Karl said.

Nikola Pekovic had 18 points and 10 rebounds and J.J. Barea had 20 points and five assists for the Timberwolves, who will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. The Wolves lost 13 of their last 14 games of the season.

The only bright spot in a terrible performance that included allowing 80 points in the paint to Denver was an emotional farewell for Miller, the crusty veteran centre who is retiring after 14 years in the league. He scored four points with four rebounds and four assists and broke down on the bench after receiving a standing ovation when he left the game with five minutes to play.

He had to compose himself when talking about what coach Rick Adelman has meant to him over the years in stops with Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota.

"No, I've always been the tough guy," Miller said when asked if expected to be this emotional. "I had a couple friends that came into town. ... I've been all cool all day and coming out, it really hit me hard."

The outcome on Thursday night wasn't in doubt for very long. Karl rested forward Al Harrington, who has a strained right knee. But he played all the other regulars in their final tuneup, and the Nuggets were off and running from the start.

They outscored the Timberwolves 16-4 to start the second quarter, opening up a 45-29 lead that was never really threatened. Denver shot 63 per cent and outrebounded the Wolves 48-29.

Adelman has been very unhappy with how his young team has responded to a rash of injuries to starters Ricky Rubio (knee), Kevin Love (concussion) and Luke Ridnour (ankle). Adelman went through a similar situation in Houston when stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were lost.

Most of the Wolves wore headbands in warmups and in the game, a tribute to Miller. But that was about all the interest they showed in being on the floor on Thursday night.

Miller air-balled two shots in the first quarter and had an ugly turnover, but he did hit a 3-pointer in the fourth and got a hearty cheer from the sparse home crowd.

Adelman wished the Wolves could have sent one of his favourite players out on a better note.

"A lot of people made a statement in that game that they were done playing and the season wasn't over yet," Adelman said. "I don't understand the attitude. I don't understand why you would approach any job that way. Some guys made a big statement tonight."

NOTES: Love sat courtside for some guest colour commentary with Fox Sports North in the second quarter. ... The Wolves finished with a record of 26-40, their most victories since 2006-07 and best winning percentage since 2005-06. ... Kenneth Faried had 15 points and seven rebounds and Kosta Koufos had 11 boards for the Nuggets.

JaVale McGee (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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