Hot-shooting Nuggets pull away from Hornets in second half
After a close-call against Sacramento and heartbreak against Cleveland, George Karl sensed some unease among the members of Nuggets Nation.
In his eyes, it was overblown and unfounded.
“I’m much more worried about us than who we beat and how we beat them,” Karl said. “I just don’t see the things people want to look at when they see the (opponents’) record. Cleveland just beat Oklahoma City. Sacramento’s playing at a better place than they have in a while. No one wants to give them that credit.
“I think it’s crazy. I think my team has done a great job this season with injuries, the schedule, the fatigue (and) the newness of our team. We’re in a very good place, and we need to play better. Am I happy? No. Am I satisfied? No. But I think the team should be given a lot credit for where they are right now.”
And exactly where are the Nuggets right now?
After beating the New Orleans Hornets 110-97 Friday night, they moved into sixth place in the Western Conference. Denver (23-18) is a game-and-a-half behind third-place Memphis (23-15); as fate would have it, the Grizzlies visit Pepsi Center on Sunday.
The Nuggets and Grizzlies have played twice this season in Memphis. Denver lost both games by a combined four points.
“We need to pay Memphis because they stole (games) twice,” Nuggets forward Nene said. “We need to come in here with a lot of hustle, energy and play hard. We hope the fans support us with a lot of energy and enthusiasm to help us win the next game.”
The matchup against Memphis marks a stretch of five games against teams currently in playoff position. It also is the fourth game of Denver’s nine-game homestand.
“We’ve got to continue to play better,” Karl said. “All the teams coming in here now are playoff teams. There’s going to be some great games. Hopefully we can take the energy of (the New Orleans game) and move it into a better place on Sunday.”
The Nuggets had good energy Friday night against a New Orleans team that beat them at Pepsi Center two months earlier. It was the Hornets’ lone road win against a winning team this season, and Denver was determined not to repeat its mistakes of Jan. 9.
Leading by four at halftime, the Nuggets pushed the advantage to eight by the end of the third quarter and then pulled away with a 14-3 run over a 3:44 span early in the fourth quarter.
Denver shot .546 in the second half, a percentage dragged down by 3-for-11 three-point shooting. The Nuggets made 68 percent of their two-point attempts after halftime, with many of those baskets coming in the paint.
“It’s good to put a W in the column, but you want to do it with some confidence and pride,” Denver guard Arron Afflalo said. “You don’t want to always have one-point buzzer-beating victories. It was good we got a solid win. I can’t remember the last time we could finish the fourth quarter in that manner.”
Afflalo led the Nuggets with 28 points on 9-for-13 shooting, while Al Harrington added 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Along with Ty Lawson, Afflalo and Harrington have carried the scoring load of late as Danilo Gallinari and Nene work their way back from injuries.
Nene scored 12 points to move past Kiki Vandeweghe for ninth place on Denver’s career scoring list but dislocated a finger on his right hand in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative and any pain was dulled by Denver’s fifth win in six games since the All-Star break.
“Everybody did well,” he said. “That is an important victory to us.”
Nene started in place of center Timofey Mozgov, who missed his second game in a row with a sprained left ankle. The Nuggets also were without center Kosta Koufos (left knee strain) and guard Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain).
Fernandez has been improving of late and said he hoped to do some contact drills in practice Saturday. He believes he is close to returning after missing his 10th straight game.
“I didn’t expect it to be this long at first,” he said. “But I think more important is to be healthy and stay (healthy) for the last games of our season.”
Injuries have led to opportunity for other players, including reserve forward Chris Andersen. Birdman blocked three shots to move past Alex English for fifth place on the franchise’s career list.
“I’ve been trying to get up there where Marcus Camby and (Dikembe) Mutombo are,” Andersen said. “Those are some of the greatest players in defensive shot-blocking. What can I say? I like to play defense.”
Before the New Orleans game, Karl commended Andersen for “mentally staying strong” during a nine-game stretch in which he has played four in a row after sitting four out of five.
“There’s no school like the old school – and I’m the dean of mental toughness,” Andersen said. “I’ve been through a lot. I trust in what (Karl) does and the decisions he makes. I can’t be negative about it. Just got to be positive about it every day and stay in the gym, stay on the court, stay in the weight room.”
Notes: Nuggets athletic trainer Jim Gillen presented his annual Excellence In High School Athletic Training Awards. Durango HS, Regis Jesuit HS and Windsor HS each received $2,000 to support their athletic training programs. Ryan Fergen of Rocky Mountain High School was honored as the Comeback Athlete of the Year and received $1,500 in scholarship money. His school also received $1,000 for its athletic training program … Afflalo, who is averaging 20.2 points in his past 10 games, moved into 10th place on Denver’s all-time three-pointers list … With 11 points and 10 assists, Lawson posted his fourth double-double in the past five games … On Hardwood Classics night, the Nuggets wore throwback uniforms and former Denver great David Thompson presented the game ball ... The Nuggets had 33 assists on 41 field goals.