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Originally published March 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 29, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Lewis leads resurgent Sonics to win

Somewhere in Seattle, Sonics fans hopeful of drafting potential lottery picks Kevin Durant or Greg Oden were disappointed Wednesday. Instead of quitting in...

Seattle Times staff reporter

DENVER — Somewhere in Seattle, Sonics fans hopeful of drafting potential lottery picks Kevin Durant or Greg Oden were disappointed Wednesday.

Instead of quitting in the final 13 games of the season and qualifying for a high pick in what should be a deep draft, the Sonics are playing like a division title is possible, locking down one of the more explosive teams in the Western Conference in a 100-97 win over Denver at the Pepsi Center.

And guess who led the surge again?

Forward Rashard Lewis demonstrated why he probably would have been an All-Star this season if it weren't for a hand injury that caused him to miss 22 games, scoring nine of his 33 points in the last 6:24 to pull Seattle from behind.

Tuesday, Lewis scored 18 of his 35 points in the closing seven minutes to help the Sonics rally past Minnesota.

Lewis' combined 68 points against All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett helped Seattle win its first back-to-back set since November.

"He's one of the best," Sonics coach Bob Hill said of Lewis. "He doesn't have to apologize to anybody ... because he's one of the best and he's proven it now. I'm awful proud of him. Two nights in a row in the middle of the floor, he was brilliant — particularly in the second half."

Unlike in the win against Minnesota, when the Sonics trailed by 25 in the third quarter, Seattle started the game making its first seven shots and never trailed by more than six points.

Sonics guard Earl Watson, from UCLA, played solid defense against Allen Iverson, a star at Georgetown.

Watson later said a UCLA-Georgetown NCAA final would be fun to see.

The point-guard version of that possible matchup Wednesday wasn't entertaining for Iverson, however. He was 4 for 13 for 14 points, and passed on an opportunity to make a possible game-winner late. With Denver trailing by two with less than 10 seconds remaining, the ball instead swung to Linas Kleiza on the weak side for a three-pointer, which he missed with four seconds left.

Iverson fouled Lewis with two seconds to play, and Lewis hit one of two free throws to make it 100-97. Then Iverson had trouble in-bounding the ball. Once he finally did after a timeout, guard J.R. Smith got too fancy with a deep three-point attempt with 1.8 seconds remaining. He tried to shake off Sonics guard Damien Wilkins, bricking the shot as time expired.

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Hill frequently has conversations with reporters about whether to foul in those situations to try to protect the win, but his firm belief is to not foul, choosing to win or lose on his team's defense. He stuck to that mantra, but did have a beef with Lewis for not throwing the ball in the air so time might expire as Iverson tried to foul him.

"We need to talk about that," Hill said.

Lewis, who had 10 rebounds for his third double-double in his past six games, said he's still experiencing stiffness in his lower back and knees.

"I'm tired," he said. "Just something that happens when you play back-to-back games. You've got to fight through the injuries that you have towards the end of the season. It's been a long season."

While Sonics fans might want a high draft pick, the team wants to gain momentum for next season. Hill spoke before the game of liking the team's core, if Lewis can be retained, and believing the team is on the brink of a special season if healthy.

But the injuries just keep coming.

Sonics reserve Andre Brown suffered a broken nose in the first quarter as the back of former Sonic Reggie Evans' forearm hit Brown. Yet it was Brown who was called for the foul.

"He cleared me out," said Brown, who will be examined today and most likely have to play the remainder of the season with a facemask. "I heard my nose snap, so I knew my nose was broken right away. It's painful."

Midway through the fourth quarter Wilkins suffered a jammed finger on his right hand, but returned to play in the closing minutes.

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