The Bobcats posted an eight-point lead on Boris Diaw's layup with 1:35 left but Denver's J.R. Smith then canned a 3-pointer, igniting a 7-1 run that pulled the Nuggets to within two points with 30 seconds left.
They could come no closer as Chauncey Billups missed a potential game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer, denying Nuggets head Coach George Karl a chance to earn his 1,000th career victory.
Gerald Wallace chipped in with 20 points and D.J. Augustin contributed 18 more for the Bobcats.
Billups collected 25 points and Carmelo Anthony gave Denver 22 points and seven rebounds.