OAKLAND, Calif. &

Baron Davis had an excuse for his slow start after being sick for two days and needing a pregame IV just to be able to take the floor for the Golden State Warriors.




Coach Don Nelson was livid that the rest of the team started the game the way Davis felt, falling behind by 14 points after less than 9 minutes in a game that was critical to Golden State's playoff hopes.




The Warriors responded to their coach's anger, erasing that deficit by the second quarter and rolling past the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 111-95 Thursday night.




"It's hard to believe sometimes the way we start games," said Nelson, who gave his team a tongue-lashing during a timeout. "We look to our leader and our leader was sick. It seemed like everybody was trying to play like Baron at the start of the game. That wasn't strong enough. We needed everybody to play above what they normally do to carry him. I was very disappointed that everyone else played down, not up."




Early holes are nothing new for the Warriors, who have rallied from double-digit deficits in 16 of their 44 wins this season. With three games coming up in five days against the two teams Golden State is fighting for the final two playoff spots, they can ill afford more starts like this.




"We were a little flat, but we found a way to win," said Stephen Jackson, who scored 14 of his 24 points in the decisive third quarter. "We got it going in the second half. We can't play like that on the road though. We have to be ready to play from the jump. We have some good teams coming up. I'm glad we got the kinks out tonight and hopefully we'll be ready against Denver. We will be ready."




The Warriors maintained a half-game lead over Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and moved within a half-game of Dallas for seventh place. Golden State's next two games are against those teams, beginning with a trip to Denver on Saturday.




"They're all critical," Nelson said. "This was the game at hand, so this was the most important game of the season. The next game will be the same and that's the way we're trying to approach it."




The Warriors caught a lucky break when Portland All-Star guard Brandon Roy stayed home to nurse a sore groin.




Golden State broke this game open with a dominant third quarter, where its aggressiveness on offense paid off with 20 free throw attempts in the quarter. The Warriors made 18 of them after not going to the line once in the first half. They also shot 9-for-13 from the field, turned the ball over only once and outscored the Blazers 40-20 to take a 91-72 lead into the fourth period.




The big third quarter allowed Nelson to rest star point guard Baron Davis for the entire fourth quarter in hopes of keeping him fresh for this weekend's big games. Davis scored just 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting after getting an IV before the game because of a recent illness. But with every game so crucial, Davis wasn't about to sit this one out.




"It took me a little bit to get my motor running," Davis said. "It was just a weird feeling. It was weird. I didn't really feel like I could do what I needed to do. I just wanted to try to make hustle plays tonight and try to have a good floor game."




Nuggets 118, Mavericks 105




At Denver, Carmelo Anthony scored 32 points and sparked the decisive run in the third quarter of the Nuggets' win over the sliding Mavericks. Allen Iverson added 31 points for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight.




The Nuggets' grand night was capped when forward Nene entered the game with 1:17 left, marking his return to the court 21/2 months after surgery to remove a malignant testicular tumor, and just over a month after undergoing chemotherapy.




The Nuggets also got 10 boards from Anthony and overcame a 30-point night by Josh Howard and 19 points and 15 assists from Jason Kidd.




The Mavericks are 10-9 since acquiring Kidd from New Jersey, but none of the wins was against teams with winning records. Six of their final 10 games are against teams above .500.




Dallas fell to 1-1 since losing MVP Dirk Nowitzki indefinitely with knee and ankle injuries.




Pistons 85, Heat 69




Rookie Arron Afflalo had career highs of 15 points and seven rebounds as the Pistons clinched the Central Division. Detroit came in having lost three of four, and struggled against the hapless Heat, who dressed only nine players, has lost 13 of 15.




The host Pistons were missing All-Star guard Richard Hamilton (hip) for the third straight game. But reserve Jason Maxiell had 15 points for Detroit, while Chauncey Billups added 13 points and 11 assists.




"It means a lot," Billups said of the division crown. "Every year, we're picked to finish second, third, maybe even fourth, but at the end, we're in first. That feels good."