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Nuggets ready for home cooking

Timberwolves trying to avoid letdown on road

By David Ramsey

Knight Ridder Newspapers

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets wonder what happened to the sizzling effort that lifted them to the playoffs.

They wonder what happened to the team that won six of its final eight games to clinch a playoff berth, the first for the franchise since 1995.

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The Nuggets are down 2-0 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals. Denver plays Minnesota at 7:30 MDT on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.

Point guard Earl Boykins scowled as he considered his team's performance in the two losses at Minneapolis.

"We didn't play with any energy," he said after Friday's practice. "We just went through the motions. ... We played like we were just happy to be here. We were so worried about stopping them that we weren't worrying about ourselves."

Boykins sighed.

"We played horrible."

Coach Jeff Bzdelik hopes his players put the losses to the Timberwolves in perspective. Yes, the Nuggets twice lost by 14 points, but these are the NBA playoffs. There's a reason why teams spend the season clawing for home-court advantage.

In the ongoing first round, the higher seeds won 15 of 16 of their home games by an average of 14.5 points. Minnesota's span over the Nuggets fell slightly below the average.

"It's nothing to be embarrassed about," Bzdelik said.

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Not everyone was as grim as Boykins. As Bzdelik faced the press, center Marcus Camby and guard Voshon Lenard engaged in a spirited and loud 3-point shooting contest.

Camby offered a surprising challenge, but eventually Lenard vanquished his opponent.

"Get up!" Lenard howled after his victory, and Camby roared with laughter as he left the court.

What the Nuggets need now is laughter from Carmelo Anthony.

He lumbered through Wednesday's loss with a glum look. Surrounded by a gang of Timberwolves defenders, he has failed to bust out.

Anthony scored more than 25 points 12 times in Denver's final 24 games to lead the Nuggets to the playoffs.

He struggled to a total of 34 points in the two playoff games at Minnesota.

"It's a compliment," Anthony said of Minnesota's obsession with stopping him, "but at the same time it's frustrating."

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Minnesota has dominated the Nuggets this season. Denver finished with at least two wins against all Western Conference opponents, except for 1-3 records against the Timberwolves, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Timberwolves have taken a simple, repetitive path to victory over Denver.

They place Trenton Hassell, a superb perimeter defender on Anthony.

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