Lawson excels in return, Afflalo finds rare air for Nuggets
Denver opens second half strong with 104-95 win over Portland
The search for Bigfoot continues. The legend of Loch Ness lives on.
As nearly 16,000 witnesses at Pepsi Center can now attest, Arron Afflalo’s dunking ability is no longer a myth.
Afflalo struggled with his perimeter shot against the Portland Trail Blazers, but he played steady defense and rose up for a two-hand breakaway dunk that punctuated the Denver Nuggets’ 104-95 victory on Wednesday night.
The dunk – Afflalo’s first that any of his current teammates could remember – gave the Nuggets an 11-point lead with 49.5 seconds remaining and put the finishing touches on Denver’s seventh straight home win over the Blazers.
“I just laughed when he did it because it didn’t look right for Arron,” teammate Ty Lawson said. “It was out of his box. He was forced to dunk.”
Afflalo, one of seven Nuggets to finish in double figures, smiled after his slam and had some fun with the moment in the locker room afterward.
“Tell the truth, Ty,” he said. “I can do windmills all day.”
The mood was certainly upbeat after the Nuggets led wire-to-wire in their first game after the All-Star break. After losing twice to Portland on the road this season, Denver leap-frogged the Blazers for eighth place in the Western Conference.
“I know they felt they were going to walk in here and get a win,” Nuggets forward Al Harrington said. “But we did a great job defensively and a great job pushing the ball. Everybody was involved. When you have games like that, it’s hard to lose.”
Harrington posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Lawson finished with 18 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Rookie Kenneth Faried added 13 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in the past six games.
In fact, the trio of Faried, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov combined for 35 points and 30 rebounds to neutralize the Portland frontline of LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace.
“I thought our big guys were great,” Denver coach George Karl said. “Kenneth got off to a great start with his effort. Timo was extremely good, and I thought Kosta was so good I couldn’t take him out of the game down the stretch. They were really pretty special.”
While the big guys secured the interior, Lawson was outstanding on the perimeter after missing two games because of a sprained left ankle.
Lawson scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that pushed Denver’s lead to 10 after Portland had closed within seven with less than five minutes remaining.
“I just wanted to come out strong and aggressive,” Lawson said. “I took necessary care of my ankle and I wanted to come out strong and show everybody I wasn’t hurt. It felt good. I didn’t have any pain and was ready to go.”
As always, the rookie Faried also looked ready to make his presence felt. He scored eight of Denver’s first 16 points, grabbed seven offensive rebounds and made all six of his field goal attempts in just 17 minutes of work.
“I don’t worry about how many minutes I’m playing,” he said. “I showed no matter how many minutes you do play, you can be productive and do something to help the team win.”
In a crowded Western Conference race, every win is precious. Denver improved to 10-8 at Pepsi Center and will play nine of the next 11 games at home; the two road games will come Friday at Houston and Sunday at San Antonio.
Reserve guard Rudy Fernandez (strained lower back) is optimistic about returning Friday, and the Nuggets are hoping starting forward Nene (strained calf) and Danilo Gallinari aren’t far behind.
“It’s tough to be patient in this situation, but you have to take care of you body and you have to be ready to go when you are back,” said Gallinari, who jogged the length of the court during shootaround Wednesday. “I’m not ready to go yet, but I’ll be ready to go soon.”
Gallinari was among those on the Nuggets bench who rose to their feet when Afflalo delivered his fourth-quarter slam.
The event took place on Leap Day, which was probably fitting considering Afflalo dunks roughly once every four years.
NOTES: Afflalo scored his 2,000th point in a Nuggets uniform; he is in the midst of his third season in Denver … The Nuggets improved to 15-8 this season when Harrington scores at least 12 points … Denver improved to 16-1 in its past 17 home games against the Blazers … The Nuggets finished with a 54-26 rebounding advantage, their largest of the season … Denver never trailed and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter … After scoring a career-high 33 points against Denver on Feb. 4, Portland guard Nicolas Batum had just nine on Wednesday.