DENVER - Even the return of Kenyon Martin couldn't snap the Denver Nuggets out of their funk.
Ron Artest scored 22 points, and Aaron Brooks added 19 in the Houston Rockets' 97-95 win over the fading Nuggets on Monday night.
Brooks sank one of two free throws with 22.7 seconds left to give Houston a 93-90 lead. Linas Kleiza got the rebound, and Denver called a timeout. But Chauncey Billups, who led the Nuggets with 28 points, missed a layup, and Kyle Lowry sank two free throws with 9.9 seconds left.
After Billups' bucket made it 95-92, Brooks sank two free throws, rendering moot J.R. Smith's 34-footer at the buzzer and securing Houston's 11th win in 13 games since Tracy McGrady incurred a season-ending knee injury.
The Nuggets, who were the No. 2 seed in the West at the All-Star break, have slipped all the way down to seventh in the conference with eight losses in 11 games.
The Nuggets had fallen out of first place in the Northwest Division with a disheartening defeat at Sacramento 24 hours earlier, and they had counted on a return to Denver and the return of Martin to get them back on track.
With a chance to tie idle Utah, which has won 11 consecutive games, atop the division, the Nuggets jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first half only to fritter away their lead by halftime, when they trailed 45-40.
They fell behind by 19 in the third quarter before mounting a comeback that fell just short.
Before tipoff, Nuggets coach George Karl said he still thought the schedule down the stretch favored Denver, which he thinks can recover and get home-court advantage in the first round.
"It's not raining, it's just cloudy," Karl said.
And maybe those raindrops started to fall Monday night.
Denver trailed 53-49 after a 3-pointer by Billups midway through the third quarter, but the Rockets responded with a 15-0 run capped by Artest's 3-pointer that gave Houston a 68-49 lead.
Artest also had a breakaway dunk during the run when he stepped in front of Billups' pass intended for Carmelo Anthony and sped downcourt. Billups grabbed Artest with both hands at midcourt and didn't chase him, then looked at the referee incredulously, wondering why he hadn't blown the whistle.