Nuggets clinch their first division title in 18 years

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Denver Nuggets were in a celebratory mood after clinching their first division title in 18 years.

Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 28 points, and Ruben Patterson had 21 in a 110-98 win Monday night over his former team, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Patterson was dealt to Denver as part of a four-team midseason trade after growing unhappy with his playing time and Portland's mounting losses.

"I'm so happy right now," Patterson said. "We clinched our division and we're getting ready for the playoffs. I love playing with these guys."

Marcus Camby added 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Nuggets, whose last division title was in 1987-88 when they played in the Midwest Division.

Voshon Lenard and Sebastian Telfair each had 21 points for the Blazers, who tied a season-high with 24 turnovers.

The Nuggets entered the game needing one win or a Utah loss to clinch the Northwest Division crown. The Jazz held off the Houston Rockets, but the Nuggets pulled away from Portland in the third quarter.

Drafting Anthony with the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft helped put Denver back on a winning path. Adding veteran coach George Karl at midseason last year made an immediate difference.

"I don't think anybody thought we'd be where we are now, after three years" said Anthony, whose 26.8 points leads the team. "This is one of the stages we've been trying to get to. Now that we're here, we want to move forward and win a playoff series."

Denver extended a four-point halftime advantage into an 84-69 lead at the end of the third thanks in part to Camby's 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the quarter.

Lenard, who came to Portland from Denver in the Patterson trade, had his best game of the season. He played 32 minutes and helped key the Blazers' rally in the second quarter.

Starting in the place of the injured Darius Miles, Travis Outlaw had 14 points and seven rebounds for Portland, which has lost 14 of its last 15 and has the worst record in the NBA.

Denver went up 18-5 after a 14-0 run in which Portland allowed fast-break dunks, open jumpers and clear paths to the basket. After coach Nate McMillan pulled all five starters, the Blazers rallied, cutting the lead to 35-34 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Martell Webster and Lenard.

Portland briefly took the lead before halftime but couldn't hold it. Zach Randolph lost the ball on an inbounds pass -- Portland's 15th turnover of the half -- and Greg Buckner rushed down the court to make a finger roll before the buzzer, giving Denver a 56-52 lead.

"You can't turn over the ball 24 times and win," McMillan said. "They scored 25 points off our turnovers."

The Nuggets dressed just 10 players and were missing important parts of their team.

Rookie Julius Hodge was released from the hospital Sunday after being shot while driving on a north Denver freeway early Saturday morning. Hodge, Denver's first-round draft pick out of North Carolina State, could return to play in two to three weeks, the team has said.

Kenyon Martin missed the game with knee tendinitis. Eduardo Najera is probably out for the regular season with a right foot compression fracture, Karl told the Rocky Mountain News on Sunday.

Patterson's sometimes rocky stint in Portland culminated in him being suspended and held out of six games for getting in a shouting match with McMillan during a game he refused to enter.

Patterson persuaded Denver coach George Karl to let him start in his first trip to Portland since coming over from the Blazers.

"I told Karl you just gotta let me loose, and if I start acting up you can put me back in my cage." Patterson said.

Game notes
Blazer center Joel Przybilla's knee injury will cause him to miss the rest of the season, trainer Jay Jensen said. Miles twisted his knee against Utah Sunday night and is day-to-day. ... Karl has won six division crowns in his 18-year head coaching career. ... Denver has won its last seven games against Portland and 11 of the previous 12 meetings.