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Denver on longest win streak in 16 years

DENVER (AP) -- Kenyon Martin broke into a smile after he
intercepted a pass near halfcourt, then nearly missed the breakaway
dunk because he was laughing so hard.

Yes, it's been that easy for the Denver Nuggets, particularly on
this night.

Carmelo Anthony had 23 points before sitting out the fourth
quarter and the Nuggets won their seventh straight game Monday
night, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 111-98 for their longest
winning streak in 16 years.

"There's been a lot of firsts this season and we just want to
keep it going," said Martin, who returned after missing two games
with knee tendinitis. "Winning in contagious. When you win one,
then two and you learn how to do it. It's been great."

Martin was forced into action because center Marcus Camby -- last
week's NBA player of the week -- sat out with a strained hamstring
and forward Nene missed his ninth straight game with a sprained
knee.

Not that it's mattered.

Short-handed or full strength, the Nuggets are on a roll and are
charging toward the final playoff spot in the Western Conference --
or higher.

Denver is 14-4 under coach George Karl, has won eight straight
home games and has made up 6½ games on the Los Angeles Lakers in a
little over a month to tie for eighth in the West. Wesley Person
scored 18 points in 22 minutes and Greg Buckner added 16 on just
five shots for the Nuggets, on their longest winning streak since
winning seven straight in 1989.

"This team is a very capable basketball team that's just
starting to feel good about themselves," Karl said. "And in a
general way we're getting better almost every game that we play."

While the Nuggets have responded to a coaching change, firing
Maurice Cheeks hasn't made a bit of difference for Portland. The
Blazers have lost five straight and 10 of 12, the last three by an
average of 11.6 points under interim coach Kevin Pritchard.

It didn't help that leading scorer Zach Randolph missed his
third straight game with a sore right knee and Nick Van Exel didn't
make the trip after complaining about the team's direction and
saying he needed to rest his sore knee.

Damon Stoudamire led Portland with 24 points and Darius Miles
added 16, but at times it seemed as if the inexperienced Blazers
were intentionally throwing the ball away.

Flinging wild passes and sending lobs into crowds of two or
three Nuggets, Portland had turnovers on three straight possessions
twice in the first 15 minutes and had 26 overall -- 16 on steals by
the Nuggets.

"We turned the ball over way too much to be able to compete and
play with a team like that," said Portland's Shareef Abdur-Raheem,
who had 15 points. "The young guys try. We just have to keep
working with them and be positive."

The young guys were solid in the first half when they did hold
onto the ball, usually putting it in the basket. Portland shot
11-of-19 in the first quarter and cooled only slightly in the
second, shooting 48 percent to stay within six at 56-50 despite
giving the ball away so many times.

But as has happened so many times this season, it didn't last.

The Blazers continued to throw the ball away in the second half,
didn't shoot quite as well and allowed the Nuggets to hit 14-of-22
shots in the third quarter to stretch the lead to as much as 19.

Portland's problems got worse midway through the third, when
starting center Joel Przybila was ejected after receiving his
second technical foul for pushing Francisco Elson.

"It's disappointing. Every game I'm mad we lose, but it's a mad
that is like a hole inside," Miles said. "I don't want to lose
every game, I want to win. But I definitely want our guys to play
and that is the route we are going."

The inability to stop Anthony didn't help any.

The Blazers hounded Denver's leading scorer the last team these
teams met on Feb. 2, holding him to 3-of-14 shooting and keeping
him under double figures for just the sixth time in his career.

Athony had no problems this time, reaching his total from the
previous meeting (seven) in the first quarter, playing superb
defense and finishing 9-for-18 before cheering on his teammates
from the bench in the fourth quarter.

"Carmelo has done a great job of trying to figure out how I
want him to play," Karl said. "Tonight he had a game he very
easily could have gotten 30 or 35."

Game notes
Carlee, the German shorthaired pointer who won last month's
Westminster Kennel Club show, attended the game. Her owners,
Richard and Linda Stark, live in nearby Castle Rock and are
Nuggets' season-ticket holders. ... Denver is 12-0 when forcing at
least 20 turnovers. ... Martin's mother, Lydia Moore, watched
Kenyon in Denver for the first time since he was traded to the
Nuggets.