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Nuggets end long playoff drought

WITH a little help from the hometown kid, Carmelo Anthony is finally moving on.

Behind Anthony's 34 points and the floor leadership of Chauncey Billups, the Denver native who came home this season and galvanized a city and a team, the Nuggets advanced to the second round of the National Basketball Association playoffs, 107-86 over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.

After five straight first-round flameouts, 'Melo led the Nuggets to their first playoff series win since 1994. They'll face the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.

"That monkey is awful heavy sometimes," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I'm just really happy for 'Melo."

Dallas advanced to the Western Conference semifinals by defeating San Antonio in five games. Denver swept the season series with the Mavericks 4-0.

Anthony's 34 points were a career playoff best. Billups had 13 points and 11 assists, and J.R. Smith scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half to fuel Denver, which needed just five games to go from traditional first-round fodder to a playoff success story.

"I thought we could be a good team," Karl said. "But I never thought we could be this good."

Halftime lead

In the day's other playoff clash, the Atlanta Hawks whipped the Miami Heat 106-91 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to pull within one win of capturing a playoff series for the first time in 10 years. Atlanta shot 13-for-16 in the second period to turn a four-point advantage into a 63-40 halftime lead.

In Denver, despite the final score, the capper wasn't nearly as easy as Denver's three other wins, including the 58-point blowout in Game 4 that matched the NBA record.

Playing without Tyson Chandler but with a pride and passion unapparent through most of the series, the Hornets made the Nuggets sweat. It was tied at 62 midway through the third period before Denver went on a 24-4 run to ice it.

David West led the Hornets with 24 points and Chris Paul had 12 points and 10 assists.

In Atlanta, Joe Johnson scored 25 points as the Hawks outclassed the Heat.

Ronald Murray shot 23 points off the bench in a highly physical contest that left the Heat bruised and the Hawks 3-2 up.

The teams return to Miami for Game 6 tomorrow.

Miami lead guard Dwyane Wade left the court in the first quarter after a collision with Atlanta's Josh Smith, but returned in the second and managed 29 points for the game.

Johnson scored 13 points in a lively second quarter.


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