DENVER (AP) _ For several critical seconds, New York Knicks guard Derek Harper self-destructed, costing his team the lead in the final minute. Then, just as suddenly, he could do no wrong.

Harper and Denver's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf staged a dramatic one-on-one duel in the waning moments Thursday night. Harper prevailed, scoring the last five points of the game to lift the Knicks past the Nuggets 104-101.

Harper, whose foul on Abdul-Rauf's 3-point attempt enabled Abdul-Rauf to hit three free throws for a 101-99 Denver lead with a minute left, missed a short jumper moments later.

But the veteran guard atoned for his errors by blocking a subsequent Abdul-Rauf shot. He plucked the ball out of the air and went the other way for a layup and was fouled. His three-point play with 21.5 seconds left gave New York a 102-101 lead.

``I thought Mahmoud would try to reverse away from me,'' Harper said, ``and I guessed right.''

Harper, who finished with 16 points, added two free throws with 1.2 seconds to go.

``Derek wanted to take on the challenge,'' Knicks coach Pat Riley said. ``It was a questionable call on the 3-pointer where he got the foul, but when all is said and done, he got the job done.''

Patrick Ewing, slowed by an ankle injury and foul trouble, had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who have won 14 of their last 19 road games. Charles Smith came off the bench to score 18 points and grab eight rebounds.

Abdul-Rauf led Denver with 30 points, and Dale Ellis had 14. Jalen Rose had 11 points and 10 assists.

Harper said the victory was ``the kind of game we can build on because we had so many contributions. We had so many players step up tonight with Patrick struggling physically in the second half. We really needed that.''

The win was the fourth for the Knicks in the last five games. Denver, which lost its third straight, fell 1 1/2 games behind Sacramento in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

``Harper made a great play,'' Nuggets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said, ``but it should have been overtime. I don't think it was a three-point play.''

Abdul-Rauf agreed, saying he didn't foul Harper on the breakaway after the block. ``I didn't touch him, but it was a good play defensively on his part.''

New York built an 89-81 lead with 8:29 to play when the Nuggets chipped away, and Abdul-Rauf's 19-footer with 1:35 remaining drew the Nuggets to 99-98.

Harper blocked Abdul-Rauf's shot, but the Nuggets retained possession when the ball went out of bounds. Launching a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, Abdul-Rauf was fouled by Harper and made all three free throws.

Harper then missed a short jumper and Denver was in control with less than a minute remaining. But Abdul-Rauf, letting the shot clock run out, had his jumper blocked by Harper, who made the critical three-point play.

Abdul-Rauf missed a shot and Ewing rebounded, and Harper then hit the clinching free throws.

Ewing left the game late in the first quarter with a mild left ankle sprain. He returned early in the second and scored the last 13 New York points of the half, which Denver led 57-50.

Ewing picked up his fourth foul early in the third period and didn't return until 6:42 was left in the game.