DENVER -- Arron Afflalo scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 101-86 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night in the opener of a crucial home-and-home set between playoff hopefuls.
The teams play again in Houston on Monday night.
With the win, the Nuggets took sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference, a-half game behind Dallas, which lost in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers earlier Sunday.
The teams are clinging to the final two playoff spots in the West, trying to fend off fast-charging Phoenix and Utah.
Ty Lawson also scored 20 points for Denver, which has won five straight at home. Chase Budinger and Luis Scola each scored 19 to lead the Rockets, who lost their third straight game and saw their four-game road winning streak come to an end.
The Rockets, who lost to the Suns and Jazz at home in the last week, led this one 49-43 at the half but were outscored 37-19 in the third quarter, falling behind 80-68 and never recovered.
The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter with an amazing play in which Andre Miller threw the ball three-quarters the length of the court for an alley-oop dunk by Corey Brewer. They stretched their lead to 87-68 before Goran Dragic's layup ended an 11-0 spurt by Denver.
Nuggets coach George Karl said his team had to treat its final seven games like a playoff series, suggesting they had to win four games at minimum to reach the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season. All but one of their remaining opponents are playoff-caliber teams.
The Rockets, who last made the playoffs in 2009, have a rough road to the postseason themselves. After their back-to-backs against Denver, they play at Dallas, and they've lost six straight to the Mavericks.
Rockets guard Courtney Lee missed a dunk in the third quarter, leading to a 3-pointer by Afflalo at the other end that capped a 14-4 run to open the second half and put Denver ahead 59-53.
Budinger scored 16 first-half points, doubling his scoring average and leading the Rockets to a 49-43 halftime lead. He sank four 3-pointers, including tree in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the first quarter, when he poured in 11 quick points, including a 3 that was on its way when the buzzer sounded and the backboard lit up in red lights.
Notes: Rockets C Marcus Camby, who has been playing through torn ligaments in his left wrist, played eight minutes before leaving with a sore back. He had no points, one rebound and two assists. ... Wilson Chandler returned to the court for Denver, playing limited minutes after missing eight games with hip and groin injuries.