DENVER (AP) - Rudy Fernandez provided both the spark and the cushion for the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Fernandez scored a season-high 23 points in his return from a sore right Achilles as the Nuggets routed the short-handed Toronto Raptors 96-81 for their sixth straight win.
He also served as a barrier between Nuggets forward Al Harrington and Raptors swingman Linas Kleiza in their short skirmish in the final minute as Harrington shoved Fernandez into Kleiza.
Harrington took offense when Kleiza put his hand on his face moments earlier, and they jawed at each other coming back upcourt. As they went face-to-face, Kleiza shoved Harrington, who shoved back - only with Fernandez in the middle of it all playing peacemaker.
During the timeout for the officials to look at the tape and sort out what had happened - they ended up calling technical fouls on both Harrington and Kleiza, along with Nene - Harrington continued to stare down Kleiza, who smiled back at him.
``Some NBA guys think it's funny because you can do all that and the referees are out there to save them,' Harrington said, ``and I don't play games like that.'
He said he was sorry for shoving Fernandez to get to Kleiza, too.
``Yeah, I apologized. Rudy was the only way I could get to him, so I picked Rudy up and kind of tossed him,' Harrington said. ``But it is what it is. It's over. We won. Great win. We've got a six-game winning streak. We're just going to keep pushing.'
Kleiza didn't have much to say about his part in the scuffle.
``For me, what happens on the court stays on the court,' he said after his first game at the Pepsi Center since leaving the Nuggets two years ago to play in Greece.
Kleiza started in place of leading scorer Andrea Bargnani, who's out indefinitely after aggravating a strained left calf this week, and finished with just two points on 1-of-7 shooting as the Raptors shot just 39 percent and never led.
``I had some good shots,' Kleiza said. ``Didn't fall for anybody. What can you do? You've got to work tomorrow and try to win the next day. I got some good looks, they just didn't fall.'
The Raptors took a while to adjust to Bargnani's absence, and by the time they did, it was too late as they fell to 0-7 in games he's been sidelined.
They missed 14 of their first 15 shots, fell behind 16-2, scored just a dozen points in the first quarter and trudged off the court at halftime trailing 54-32.
``The first half, every shot they threw up it seems like it went in,' Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. ``It kills your spirit a little bit and we dug ourselves a hole.'
Fernandez, the first Denver player off the bench, made his first five shots, including three from behind the arc in his first action since missing two games, wins at New York and Sacramento.
``I'm feeling good with my shots and I'm happy my Achilles is feeling better, which is more important,' Fernandez said.
Danilo Gallinari added 21 points and Nene had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, who also got 13 points, 12 assists and six rebounds from Andre Miller, starting in place of Ty Lawson (ankle).
Miller swished a 60-foot running jump shot at the buzzer to cap an impressive first quarter in which the Nuggets outscored Toronto 28-12.
Leandro Barbosa led Toronto with 19 points, and his 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter trimmed Denver's lead to 80-74, forcing coach George Karl, who drew a third-quarter technical, to call a timeout.
The Nuggets staunched the bleeding with back-to-back buckets from Gallinari and Fernandez to make it 85-74.
Jerryd Bayless added 18 points and James Johnson 16 for Toronto.
The Raptors have lost every game in which Bargnani, who averages 23.5 points, has been sidelined. He scored 36 points in a win over Phoenix on Tuesday night in his return from the six-game absence and had 25 points Wednesday night at Utah when he reinjured himself in overtime as he battled for a rebound.
Bargnani said this time it's more serious, leading to concerns he could miss a significant amount of games.
``Our guys have to believe,' Raptors coach Dwayne Casey said. ``We can't sit back and wait for Andrea to come back. As it was said famously before, he's not walking through that door. It's us against the world for a while, we don't know how long it's going to be, and we've got to play like it. I don't think we had the same approach walking into the gym.'
Notes: Arron Afflalo also returned to the Nuggets lineup after missing those two games, but he missed all three of his shots and was shut out. ... Fernandez's career high is 26 points for Portland at Minnesota on Dec. 17, 2010.
The Associated Press News Service
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