HOUSTON (AP) - The Denver Nuggets are already in playoff mode, even though they're still fighting for a postseason berth.
Arron Afflalo scored 26 points, Ty Lawson had 25 and the Nuggets continued their push up the standings with a 105-102 victory over the fading Houston Rockets on Monday night.
Al Harrington added 15 points and Andre Miller had 13 assists for the Nuggets, who swept back-to-back games with the Rockets, the team that was directly behind them in the Western Conference.
``Our awareness of where we are in the season is really starting to heighten now,' said Afflalo, who went 10 for 16 from the field. ``Before, we used to go out there and compete and play the games. Now, we have an ulterior motive almost, in terms of understanding playoff positioning. That's good for a young team.'
Denver began the night holding the No. 7 spot in the West, one game ahead of the Rockets. The Nuggets have won four of their last five, and snapped a three-game road losing streak.
``We had opportunities to give up on the game and we didn't do it,' Denver coach George Karl said. ``It's a huge win for us.'
Houston, meanwhile, was only one game ahead of Phoenix and 1 1/2 games ahead of Utah, who were both playing later Monday.
Goran Dragic and Chandler Parsons scored 21 points apiece for the Rockets, who have dropped four straight after a four-game road winning streak.
``We were right there,' Dragic said. ``We knew we had to get that game if we want to win a tiebreaker against Denver. We cannot think backwards, we have to think forward.'
The Rockets play at Dallas on Wednesday night, a virtual must-win game if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
``We were sitting good a few games ago, and now we're not sitting so good,' Houston coach Kevin McHale said. ``We've just got to go in and take care of ourselves.'
Denver led 75-74 after three quarters, and the fourth was tight all the way to the end.
The Nuggets took a 99-98 lead into the final 2 minutes, and Afflalo found Harrington with a wraparound pass for an easy layup with 1:19 left to make it 101-98. Parsons rattled in a jumper from the free-throw line, but with all the Nuggets standing on the sideline, Lawson hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 45 seconds left to silence the noisy crowd.
``We could've easily come in here and settled (for a loss),' Miller said. ``It definitely showed some character, coming in here (and winning), especially against a team that's fighting for a playoff spot.'
Patrick Patterson hit a short jumper, and Luis Scola had a chance to tie it, but his runner in the lane rattled out with 6 seconds left. Afflalo, a 79 percent free-throw shooter, split two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining, giving the Rockets a chance to tie it.
But Parsons' desperation 3-pointer hit off the front of the rim, and Denver sent Houston to its fourth straight home loss, a season high.
``We can't afford to play like this,' Parsons said. ``We're letting it slip away.'
Corey Brewer scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets finished 9 for 18 from 3-point range to win in Houston for the first time since October 2010.
``We just played hard to the end,' Brewer said, ``and we were able to get one.'
Houston shot well at the start, led by as many as 11 in the first half and was up 51-44 at halftime.
The Nuggets made 9 of their first 14 shots out of the break. Harrington made two 3s, and Afflalo scored in the lane to put Denver up 67-66. Courtney Lee swept in for a layup, and Houston moved back in front with 3:49 left in the quarter.
The teams swapped the lead five more times in the quarter, and Denver took a one-point lead to the final 12 minutes. The lead changed hands 16 times in all before the Nuggets finally put it away.
``Our mental toughness was pretty good,' Afflalo said. ``They gave us some tough hits. Every time we fought back, they would make plays.'
Notes: Rockets C Samuel Dalembert started for Camby and blocked seven shots, a season high. ... Scola had 14 points and 13 rebounds for his 100th career double-double. ... The Rockets went 8 for 29 from 3-point range (28 percent). ... Houston matched its season-high scoring total in a first quarter (32). ... Miller had at least 10 assists for the 15th time this season. ... The Nuggets have rallied from double-digit deficits to win 10 games this season. ... Karl is guaranteed to finish with a winning record for the 20th straight season.
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