By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- The Denver Nuggets caught a break in their last game with their opponent's best player sitting out due to injury.
They won't be as fortunate Wednesday night with the New Orleans Hornets' Eric Gordon expected to return following a three-month absence.
It remains to be seen, however, how much of an impact Gordon will have as he takes the court for just the third time this season to face Denver, which concludes a seven-game road trip seeking a third straight win.
Gordon, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, has appeared in just two games for the Hornets (13-40). He posted 20 points and suffered what proved to be a costly bruised right knee in the season opener before scoring 22 while attempting to come back just over a week later in a 101-93 loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 4.
The former Indiana Hoosiers star has been out since that game - he underwent arthroscopic surgery Feb. 14 - but made it through Tuesday's full-contact practice without any setbacks.
"I'm looking forward to playing (Wednesday)," said Gordon, who averaged 22.3 points last season. "I look forward to winning, that's the key, No. 1 thing. I know a lot of people are looking for my individual play, and that will come, but I'm looking forward to winning."
While Western Conference-worst New Orleans already has been eliminated from playoff contention, the seventh-place Nuggets (29-24) find themselves in the thick of the race.
Denver dropped three of four to open its trek but has since picked up a bit of steam. Two nights after defeating Charlotte 99-88, the Nuggets pulled out a 104-101 win over short-handed Orlando on Sunday.
"It's a big win. It's a momentum game for us ... if we get it rolling toward the playoffs," said Ty Lawson, averaging 23.0 points in his last four games.
Lawson had 25 points and nine assists Sunday while Arron Afflalo scored 22 for Denver, which shot 55.6 percent against a Magic team that was without Dwight Howard due to back spasms.
"With our schedule we probably shouldn't have won two in a row," coach George Karl said. "I'm happy. It's a great win. ... It was an opportunity that was given to us and I think we took advantage."
The Hornets, meanwhile, suffered their third straight defeat Sunday, 92-75 at Phoenix. Chris Kaman (bronchitis) scored eight points while Gustavo Ayon (personal) had four in their returns from five- and three-game absences, respectively.
Continuing to play without Emeka Okafor, the Hornets - in addition to Gordon - might have Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza available Wednesday. Landry has missed the last two games and Ariza the past four with ankle problems.
"We are going through a tough time but I love it, because I know hard work pays off and we are going to continue to work hard," guard Greivis Vasquez said. "We are doing the right thing and coming up short but it will pay off."
Denver's Wilson Chandler may return after sitting out Sunday with a strained groin.
The Nuggets, who beat the Hornets 110-97 on March 9, have taken six of nine in the series - including three of four in New Orleans.
Updated April 3, 2012