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Nuggets open difficult six-day stretch with victory over Utah

Nene, Harrington provide the scoring in balanced win

Nuggets forward Nene listens to the national anthem before Denver's home-opener against the Utah Jazz.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Over the course of a marathon, sometimes you have to sprint.

Just what the Denver Nuggets do best.

Behind 25 points from Nene and 18 from Al Harrington, the Nuggets opened a grueling six-day stretch in style, running past the Utah Jazz 117-100 in their home-opener Wednesday night at Pepsi Center.

The endurance test continues Thursday in Portland and picks up again Saturday against the Lakers in Los Angeles. The Nuggets face the Lakers again at home Sunday and host Milwaukee on Monday to complete the first of two back-to-back-to-back sets this season.

“Speaking for myself, I like playing games,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “I’m glad we have five games in six days. It’s going to be fun for us – get these wins up and keep it rolling.”

Built for speed, the Nuggets scored 20 fast-break points in a season-opening win against Dallas and added 27 points in transition against the Jazz. Nuggets coach George Karl has little reason to pull back the reins; he has the luxury of employing 11 or 12 players, if necessary, over the next several days.

“It’s going to tough,” Harrington said of the upcoming stretch, “but I think we’re so deep, if anybody can handle it, it’s going to be us.”

After beating Dallas by 22 points, the Nuggets built a 17-point halftime cushion against Utah and led by as many as 27 in the fourth quarter. It marked just the second time in franchise history that Denver opened the season with consecutive double-digit victories.

Led by coach Doug Moe, the Nuggets blitzed Golden State and Sacramento to open the 1985-86 season. Denver fans might recognize a similar style of play 26 years later.

“When I played, this is how I liked to play,” Karl said. “It’s a combination of North Carolina, Phoenix Suns, Doug Moe. There is a commitment to running all the time.

“There’s a sound commitment to playing the way the team plays best and that’s just attack, attack, attack and defend every possession with some integrity and some intensity.”

With the game in hand after three quarters, Karl was able to rest his starters and primary reserves down the stretch. Rudy Fernandez was the only Denver player to reach the 30-minute mark, meaning the Nuggets should be recharged for the Portland game.

“We have a lot of games in a row. We have to enjoy it and be ready to play hard every game,”: Fernandez said. “We have a lot of players. We have to play hard all the minutes we have on the court.”

Fernandez, who closed the game running the point, was among the many stars who dazzled the sold-out crowd of 19,155. He finished with 11 points and eight assists in advance of his return to Portland. Fernandez spent his first three NBA seasons with the Trail Blazers.

“I have a lot of friends in Portland,” he said. “I had good times and bad times. I appreciate all the fans there because they helped me a lot in my transition (from Spain), and I appreciated all my teammates.”

The same chemistry is building quickly in Denver. The Nuggets are forcing turnovers, attacking the basket and sharing the ball. Andre Miller led the way with 12 assists against Utah, including a highlight-reel alley-oop to Corey Brewer in the fourth quarter.

“Andre just finds open guys,” Karl said. “He throws balls that not many guards throw, and there’s usually a positive result to it. ... Our passing is at a high level. There are very few selfish basketball plays out there. "

Nene, who re-signed with the Nuggets on Dec. 14, is the beneficiary of the unselfish play. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the basket for powerful dunks in the half-court offense. After the game, he could barely contain his smile.

“We have a lot of productive players, a lot of players who can be the man of the night,” Nene said. “We don’t have superstars. We have a team. It’s good because you know we are going to play hard. We trust each other. We’re going to try and help each other. That’s a team.”

A team that appears built to handle the marathon.


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...