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Nuggets

Bird Soars As Nuggets Win 50th

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 11: The Denver Nuggets versus the Golden State Warriors on April 11, 2011 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – APRIL 11: The Denver Nuggets versus the Golden State Warriors on April 11, 2011 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

DENVER (AP) — J.R. Smith’s 22 points led nine Nuggets in double figures and Kosta Koufos tied his career high with 18 points in Denver’s 134-111 win over Golden State on Monday night.

The injury-riddled Nuggets reached 50 wins for the fourth straight season and clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re limping into the playoffs.

On the same night forward Arron Afflalo and center Chris “Birdman” Andersen returned to action, center Nene strained his left groin and missed the second half. The Nuggets said he’s day to day.

Afflalo left the game 2 1/2 minutes into the second half and didn’t return. He appeared to walk gingerly to the bench during a timeout after scoring 10 points in 17 minutes.

Afflalo had missed 11 of the team’s previous 15 games with a strained left hamstring, and Andersen hadn’t played since spraining his right ankle April 1. Andersen finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

While Afflalo had a quiet and short-lived return, Andersen had five rim-rattling dunks to spark the Nuggets along with Smith’s bevy of 3-pointers that helped them pull away late in the third quarter.

Every Nuggets player who played scored in double figures, including Koufos, who didn’t play at all in the first half. He finished one board shy of joining Andersen and Raymond Felton (15 points, 10 assists) with a double-double.

Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright each scored 27 for Golden State. Wright scored 1,333 combined in his first six NBA seasons and has 1,324 already this season with one game left.

The Warriors were without guard Monta Ellis, who sustained a concussion in the final minute of a game against Sacramento on Sunday night. He’ll also miss Golden State’s season finale against Portland on Wednesday night.

Ellis was released from the hospital Monday after spending the night for further examination following the collision with Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins. Ellis led the NBA this season with 40.3 minutes per game. He also averaged 24.1 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

Smith made three free throws out of four after Wright was whistled for a foul on a three-pointer. Smith made the technical and then hit two of the three foul shots to give Denver a 98-88 lead.

The Nuggets were 32-25 when they traded All-Star scorer Carmelo Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster traded that netted them five new players, including Danilo Gallinari and Felton.

Since then, they’ve done better than anyone could have anticipated to reach the 50-win plateau for the fourth straight year.

And this might top them all, given the chaos they dealt with at the start of the year and the uncertainty that came with reshaping their roster with less than a third of the season remaining.

Notes: The Nuggets were without F Wilson Chandler (left ankle), Gallinari (right ankle), F Al Harrington (rest) and C Timofey Mozgov (left ankle and knee). … The Warriors have lost in nine of their past 10 trips to Denver.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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