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Nuggets down Dallas to reach finals

DENVER, May 14 – Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points and Chauncey Billups added 28 as Denver downed Dallas 124-110 on Wednesday to advance in the National Basketball Association playoffs.CELTICS_CELEBRATEThe victory gave the Nuggets a four games to one victory in their best-of-seven second-round series and their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1985.

"It’s special," Anthony said. "We worked hard in the offseason and training camp and throughout. We stuck to everything, we overcame adversity, we stayed humble and our hard work paid off."

Denver next face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Houston Rockets, whose series was scheduled to continue on Thursday in Houston. The Lakers lead that series 3-2.

If the Lakers win, Denver will start the conference finals on the road, but against Houston they would be at home, where the Nuggets have won 16 straight games.

The conference finals seemed an unlikely destination for Denver after the departures of Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera prior to the season.

But a trade sending Allen Iverson to Detroit for Denver native Billups transformed the Nuggets.

"He’s a leader," Anthony said of Billups, who helped the Pistons to the NBA title in 2004. "He came on this team and he brought a businesslike attitude to our team. He brought a defensive mind-set we were looking for."

After the series turned ugly in Dallas, the Nuggets arrived back home ready to put an end to it, shooting 64 percent in the first half as they established a 69-55 lead.

The Mavericks hung around, thanks in large part to 32 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists from Dirk Nowitzki.

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Their second-half stretch of five straight 3-pointers included three by Jason Kidd and narrowed the gap to 79-72.

Dallas edged within 103-97 in the fourth quarter on a basket by Nowitzki. Then Anthony nailed a 3-pointer and the Mavericks would get no closer than eight points the rest of the night.

"We’re still on a roll," said Billups who improved to 16-4 in closeout games in his career. "The roll ain’t over yet. Hopefully we can move on to bigger and better things."

The ill-feeling that erupted in the stands in Dallas, embroiling friends and relatives of some Nuggets players as well as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, was not in evidence on Wednesday

Cuban was angered after botched officiating helped Denver win game three at the buzzer, and his ire spilled out in a jibe at Kenyon Martin’s mother.

The testiness was visible on the court in game four as Anthony shoved Wright to break away from his hold under the basket and a host of technical fouls ensued.

Cuban, who didn’t attend game five, had apologized on his blog this week for contributing to the hostile atmosphere.

However, his words were viewed sceptically by the Nuggets since he wrote that Denver players’ families and friends could sit in his private suite "when the series returns to Dallas."

Rather than avail themselves of that offer, the Nuggets simply put an end to the series.

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"In the final analysis, Denver’s the better team," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "When you’re involved with a franchise like the Mavericks, anything short of a championship isn’t good enough. But I’m real proud of the fight. Even though we didn’t win the series, our spirit was never questioned. And I think that’s important."

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