Nuggets punch ticket to Western Conference finals

DENVER — Carmelo Anthony nailed another clutch 3-pointer in yet another pivotal situation. It's all part of his postseason evolution.

Anthony's latest long-range jumper sent the Denver Nuggets to a 124-110 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night and into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 24 years.

Up next for Denver will be either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Houston Rockets. The Lakers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Thursday night in Houston.

"I really don't know how to feel right now," said Anthony, whose team dispatched the Mavericks in five games. "I don't want to get too excited. But I'd be lying to you if I said I'm not excited."

Anthony came through with another vital 3-pointer on Wednesday.

Sure, the shot wasn't as glamorous as his game-winning 3-pointer in Game 3, when Anthony bounced off Antoine Wright's push — the league later admitting a call should've been made — and drained the jumper with a second left.

Still, this 3-pointer was every bit the dagger.

The Mavericks were making a late charge, pulling to within six midway through the fourth quarter, when Anthony took the inbounds pass and with 2 seconds on the shot clock, hit a turnaround 25-foot jumper at the buzzer.

Thing of beauty?

More like luck.

"If I told you I knew it was going in, I'd be lying to you," said Anthony, who finished with 30 points. "I think that shot right there sparked the momentum for us."

That it did. Wright was assessed a technical after the shot and Chauncey Billups sank the free throw, restoring the lead back to double digits and derailing Dallas' comeback bid.

"That 'Melo 3 was a killer," said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds. "To battle all night, and then he makes a tough shot like that?"

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle went so far as to term the shot a microcosm of the series, with Denver always seeming to come up with big shots at big moments.

"In the final analysis, Denver's a better team," Carlisle said. "And they showed it throughout the series."

Anthony averaged 30 points against the Mavericks, joining Alex English as the only Nuggets players to average 30 or more in a playoff series.

"I think that's what you're supposed to do in the postseason," Anthony cracked when asked if he was elevating his game.

Earlier in the day, Anthony was named third team All-NBA along with Billups.

The forward is quickly taking his place among the elite in the league.

Not that Billups is surprised.

"'Melo has been awesome this year, one of the best players I've ever played with," said Billups, who scored 28 points and had 12 assists. "I think his maturity has shown and grown throughout this season. All the guys they talk about being elite players in this league, the common denominator under all of them is that they win. They win at a high level. And you can start to put 'Melo in that group of winners."

As for who they'll face in the Western Conference Finals, it really doesn't matter to the Nuggets.

The fans, though, voiced their opinion as they chanted "Beat L.A." in the waning moments in Wednesday's clincher. The Nuggets were swept out of the playoffs last season by the Lakers.

"To be the best you've got to play the best," said Anthony, who bruised his left quadriceps muscle driving to the basket in the third quarter but considered the injury minor. "The Lakers are considered the best team in the West, one of the best teams in the league. We know in the back of our minds what happened last year. But last year is over with. If something happened and we played the Lakers we're going to be ready."

As for that possible Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James matchup in the finals, don't pencil it in just yet.

At least Jason Terry wouldn't.

"That team is going to be a tough out," Terry said. "I don't think it's going to be an easy walk to a Kobe-LeBron final. The Nuggets could very well be there."

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