Team-oriented Nuggets building unity with each victory
Denver rallies past Sacramento for 10th straight home win
Raymond Felton can sense something special happening inside the Nuggets locker room.
Egos are checked at the door. The final score is more important than the box score.
It was the same togetherness that Felton experienced when he won the NCAA title at the University of North Carolina.
“I compare it to when I was in college,” he said. “We had a team full of good players. Everybody can score. We just kind of came together. Everybody didn’t care who was scoring or who was getting the shots. We were worrying more about winning. We had a lot of success that way and that’s what’s happening so far here.”
Felton scored 11 points and added seven assists without committing a turnover Wednesday night to help the Nuggets overcome a lethargic start and rally for a 104-90 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Nene had 12 points and a season-high 15 rebounds, while J.R. Smith scored 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting for the Nuggets (45-29), who erased a 13-point deficit and won their 10th straight game at the Pepsi Center.
Denver, 13-4 since the All-Star break, moved to the precipice of clinching a playoff berth. The Nuggets will reach the postseason for the eighth consecutive season with one more victory or one more loss by the Houston Rockets.
“You really can’t say we have a second unit. You can’t say we’ve got a bench. We’ve got a team,” Felton said. “That’s it. We’ve got a team. It’s fun. We’re really enjoying it. Everybody enjoys winning. Everybody enjoys playing together as a team. It’s fun. This locker room, this atmosphere, it’s great.”
The locker room was pretty quiet at halftime Wednesday night.
After four days off between games, the Nuggets came out sluggish and trailed 49-36 with 3:04 left in the second quarter. The deficit was a result of 12 first-half turnovers, .366 shooting and missed defensive assignments.
Never one to mince words, Nuggets coach George Karl described his team’s first-half play as “bad-attitude basketball, losing basketball and disrespectful basketball.”
“We knew we didn’t play a very good first half,” forward Danilo Gallinari said. “When we came in the locker room, we knew we were not playing the right way … George had a few things to say, and we came out with a different attitude.”
Gallinari scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, while Felton and Ty Lawson (20 points) helped wear down the Kings by pushing the pace, attacking the basket and sharing the ball. Denver shot .575 from the field after halftime, committed just three turnovers and outscored Sacramento 63-39 over the final 24 minutes.
“We had an amazing second half,” Nene said. “The game teaches us to never quit. In the first half, if you have struggles, you have to come back and give your best and play hard. That’s what we did and had a beautiful win.”
The Nuggets will try to make it two in a row against the Kings on Friday night in Sacramento; Denver lost at ARCO Arena on Jan. 6 and are 3-22 in that building since the 1997-98 season.
“Beating a team back-to-back in the NBA is a difficult challenge,” Karl said. “I don’t care what the records say. They beat us in Sacramento and kind of embarrassed us a little bit on national TV, so they are not afraid of us.”
Having played in Northern California 24 hours earlier, the Kings wore down against Denver’s relentless running game. Fatigue won’t be as much of a factor in the rematch, so a strong start will be important for the Nuggets.
“They’re pushing the ball and playing scrappy,” Denver forward Wilson Chandler said. “If we go out and take their heart from them in the beginning of the game, we’ll be all right.”
ETC: Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin played only six minutes before leaving the game because of the flu, while starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo missed his fourth straight game with a strained hamstring. Karl hopes to have Afflalo back on Friday … Denver’s 10-game home winning streak matches its season-high … Al Harrington scored 15 points off the bench and is averaging 18.5 over his past four games.