Denver Nuggets A to Z: Linas Kleiza

Sharp-shooting forward was a key member of 2009 Western Conference finals team
by Aaron Lopez

With a quick release and plenty of height to shoot over defenders, Linas Kleiza was a Lithuanian laser.

As part of a month-long tribute to the most notable and memorable players in franchise history, we are taking a look at the Denver Nuggets from A to Z.

K is for Kleiza, a confident small forward who could muscle up when necessary in the paint and spot up to provide instant offense beyond the 3-point line.

Kleiza, acquired in a draft-night trade from the Portland Trail Blazers in 2005, spent four seasons with the Nuggets. He averaged 8.3 points and was a key contributor off the bench as the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

After playing limited minutes as a rookie in 2005-06, Kleiza became a fixture in the rotation the following year. At 6-8, 245 pounds , he created matchup problems on the wing with his ability to shoot 3s and bang in the low post.

He also wasn’t afraid to take the big shot. On Dec. 23, 2007, he drained a 22-foot jump shot as time expired to given Denver a one-point victory at Sacramento. Kleiza scored at least 18 points 15 times and finished fifth on the team in scoring (11.1 ppg) that season.

Kleiza continued his strong play off the bench in 2008-09, helping the Nuggets match the franchise record with 54 wins. He averaged 9.9 points during the regular season and hit 17-of-40 3-pointers during Denver’s playoff run.

Kleiza left the Nuggets in the summer of 2009 to accept a contract offer in Greece before joining the Toronto Raptors in 2010. He also was a longtime member of the Lithuanian national team, and he now plays in Europe.

Game to remember, Jan. 17, 2008

Making a spot start in place of injured center Nene, Kleiza hit four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 41 points as Denver beat the Utah Jazz 120-109 at Pepsi Center. He joined Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith as the four Nuggets to score at least 40 points in a game that season.