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Camby's hustle the highlights

DENVER (AP) -- The free throw bounced high off the rim, and
Marcus Camby swooped in from above the key, grabbed the ball and
jammed it. A little later, he was boxed out by two defenders, but
somehow sneaked a hand in to tip the ball off the glass and in.

Those hustle plays were two of the highlights from Camby's
20-point, 17-rebound performance Friday night in Denver's 115-96
win over the Los Angeles Clippers. They're also examples of why
coach George Karl says he feels lost without the 7-foot center.

"The only thing I'll say is, he's a lot better than I ever
thought he was," Karl conceded. "If you look at the kid, he's
playing at a top-10, top-15 level in all of basketball right now."

Corey Maggette scored 26 points -- 22 in the first half before he
tweaked his ankle -- to lead the Clippers, who played hard all the
way but had their modest two-game winning streak snapped.

Led by Camby's energetic effort and 21 points from Carmelo
Anthony, the Nuggets won for the 10th time in 11 games and took a
2½-game lead over the Lakers and Timberwolves in the race for the
eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They're 3½ games behind
seventh-place Memphis.

"We've got the eighth spot, now we'll try to go out and get the
seventh," Anthony said. "All we've got to do is keep winning
games and we'll see what happens."

The Nuggets shot 57 percent -- three percent better than their
win two nights earlier against Charlotte -- and finished with 31
assists, giving them 71 over the last two games.

This was the third of a seven-game homestand, which concludes
with games against the Bucks, Wizards, Lakers and Kings.

"We've got to take advantage of our schedule," Karl said.
"We'll scoreboard watch a little. But we've got a lot of home
basketball games we've got to be very, very careful with."

Andre Miller had eight points and 10 assists. Earl Boykins had
14 points and 10 assists. Anthony had four assists to go with his
21 points and Kenyon Martin returned from a knee injury and
finished with 17 points and nine boards.

The star, though, was Camby, who returned after missing two of
the last three games with a sore hamstring.

"He is huge for them, he is defending very well, and he's
hitting jump shots offensively," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy
said.

The jump shots were nice, but the two plays most representative
of Camby's hustle were the follow-up dunk and the offensive
stickback when he seemed clearly boxed out by a pair of L.A.'s big
men.

"I was trying to tip the ball to myself, but it went in,"
Camby said. "I guess I just got lucky there."

That gave Denver a 71-64 lead midway through the third, and the
Clippers kept it close for only a few minutes more.

Midway through the fourth, Anthony hit a 3-pointer, then lobbed
to Martin for an alley-oop to start an 11-5 run that gave the
Nuggets a 17-point lead and brought 12th man Mark Pope off the
bench.

On Sunday, Martin and Camby will likely be joined by Nene, the
power forward who has missed the last month with an injured knee.
It will mark one of the rare times since he arrived that Karl will
have his full assortment of big men.

"We'll be complete," Martin said. "It was huge to have Marcus
back. To have our lineup back, to know that no matter what lineup
we have out on the court, you're not worried about beating teams --
that's a great luxury to have."

Bobby Simmons and Lionel Chalmers had 15 points apiece for Los
Angeles, which had won three of four coming into the game.

"I'm very disappointed. This was a huge game," Maggette said.

Game notes
Former Denver coach and player Dan Issel made his first
appearance at the Pepsi Center since 2002, the season he resigned
after yelling a slur at an Hispanic fan. He was doing color
commentary for the Nuggets telecast. ... LA's Marko Jaric missed
his second straight game with a hip injury. ... LA's Elton Brand
finished with six points, the first time in 39 games he's been held
below double figures.