Manimal persona returns as Nuggets race past Jazz

Denver forward Kenneth Faried records third double-double in four games
by Aaron Lopez

The only two things that can slow Kenneth Faried this week are muscle cramps and his flair for the emphatic.

Faried continued his torrid play with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes as the Denver Nuggets ran their winning streak to three by beating the Utah Jazz 104-84 on Friday night at Pepsi Center.

After combining for eight points and 12 rebounds in the first two games of the season, Faried has recorded three double-doubles and is averaging 17.8 points and 11.8 boards in the past four games.

“He was back to being himself,” teammate Corey Brewer said. “The first two games, he wasn’t himself. Now he’s playing the way the Manimal plays. We can’t call him the Manimal if he’s getting eight points and three rebounds.”

Running the floor and attacking the offensive glass, Faried went 5-for-11 from the field and converted 8-of-10 free throws. He would have been over 50 percent from the floor if not for a wayward windmill dunk attempt in the second quarter.

All alone in the open court, Faried slammed the ball off the back of the rim and into the hands of Jazz point guard Jamaal Tinsley.

“It was too wide open, I guess,” Faried said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to go up and regular dunk it or windmill it. I just know I missed it, and I was disappointed in myself.”

Teammate Ty Lawson provided an assist when he stole the ball from Tinsley and drove to the hoop for an easy layup. During the next timeout, Nuggets assistant Melvin Hunt smiled and told Faried to grab two more offensive rebounds and he would forget about the miss.

Faried took the message to heart, causing problems for Utah at both ends of the floor. In addition to his scoring and rebounding, he also had two blocks and a steal before sitting out the final 14:48 because of a muscle cramp in his leg.

“His energy is contagious,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It’s a big part of why we were successful last year, and it’s going to have to be a big part of what we do this year.”

After limited playing time early in his rookie season, Faried emerged as a starter and earned a spot on the 2011-12 NBA All-Rookie First Team.

He then spent the summer working on his game. The improvement program included several days in Houston working with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon.

Eager to put the offseason lessons into practice, Faried strayed from his aggressive, blue-collar style in the first two games of the season. That changed with a 22-point, 12-rebound performance against the Miami Heat.

“Going out and playing every game like it’s my last,” he explained. “That’s how I’m going to play every game from here on out. That’s how my mother told me to play and my father always told me to play. I lost sight of that the first two games.”

Like Faried, the Nuggets have been a different team since two listless road games against Philadelphia and Orlando to open the season.

They were seconds from beating the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Nov. 3 and have since evened their record by outscoring the opposition in 10 of 12 quarters during their three-game winning streak.

“It was early,” Lawson said. “We didn’t know what we were. We weren’t running the first two games. The Miami game really opened our eyes a lot and showed us what we should be doing.”

When the Nuggets are at their best, they attack the basket, control the glass, run the floor and create offense with their defense.

That was on full display over the final 8:25 of the first half Friday as the Jazz went 0-for-11 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Denver outscored Utah 21-4 during that stretch to take a 53-38 lead into the break.

“The second quarter was probably the best defensive quarter in a long time,” Karl said.

The Nuggets extended the lead to 21 in the third quarter, and the Jazz never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.

Brewer connected on consecutive 3-pointers when Utah made a fourth-quarter push and finished with a game-high 20 points. Kosta Koufos added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth career double-double.

The Nuggets will close out a stretch of four games in five nights Saturday on the road against Golden State.

“It’s going to be a doozy, but I feel like we’re going to be ready,” Brewer said. “We’re a young team, so we can’t let (the demanding schedule) affect us. We have to play hard like we always do.”

NOTES: Nuggets F Wilson Chandler experienced some soreness in his surgically repaired left hip and did not play … Denver C Timofey Mozgov and F Anthony Randolph made their season debuts. Mozgov finished with four points and four rebounds, while Randolph had two points and two rebounds … The Nuggets entered the night third in the NBA in rebounds per game 49.4 and won the rebounding battle for the fifth time in six games.