Afflalo, Nuggets reserves spark 34-point rout of Suns
When Nuggets coach George Karl woke up Tuesday morning, the temperature was near zero and his two black labs, Rookie and Cody, were reluctant to venture outside.
Karl used the quiet time to review some video of the Phoenix Suns and finalize the notes that he would share with his coaching staff and players.
“We get to play basketball and I get to coach,” Karl would say after Denver’s shootaround a few hours later. “I like what I do, so I’m not going to get down … I think we got the funk out in the last couple days and it’s time to go to work.”
Karl has always had a great pulse on his team and Tuesday was no different.
With a tempest of rumors and speculation surrounding the team, the Nuggets put together one of their most spirited performances of the season, rallying from a double-digit deficit to rout the Suns 132-98 at the Pepsi Center.
“I think it was a gut-check for us,” Denver forward Carmelo Anthony said. “To be down early in the game and just fight back and play together … the bench came in and gave us a spark. We just never looked back from there.”
Anthony (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Arron Afflalo (career-high 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting) posted the big numbers, but reserves Al Harrington Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith were instrumental in helping Denver end a three-game losing streak.
The Nuggets trailed by 13 points early in the second quarter before the bench sparked a 27-7 run that gave them a seven-point lead. Anthony got going as well, scoring 11 points as part of a 44-point second quarter.
“We were a dead team, and the second unit came in and got the energy going in a good direction,” Karl said. “It wasn’t anything we did, other than play harder.”
The Nuggets (21-16) didn’t let up after halftime, outscoring Phoenix 38-17 to turn the game into a much-needed laugher after several days of speculation about Anthony’s future in Denver.
“We just went out there and tried to have as much fun as possible,” Smith said. “Instead of focusing on trade talk and rumors, have fun and don’t worry about what is going on off the court. It’s the first time in a while that we actually went out there and everybody enjoyed themselves.”
Smith finished with 15 points, Lawson added 16 and Harrington finished with 10.
“That unit that came in – Ty, J.R. and Al – and was really good in that second quarter. I think that kick-started the momentum for the entire game,” Afflalo said. “Then the starters in the third quarter kind of just maintained that level of play.”
While the Nuggets were having fun outscoring Phoenix 82-40 in the second and third quarters, the Suns grew increasingly frustrated.
With Denver leading by 36 points early in the fourth quarter, Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic drew a technical foul when he flung the ball at Smith after being fouled. Smith and Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin also drew technical fouls as tempers flared, and Dragic later fouled Lawson hard on a fast break.
“It was out of place for NBA basketball, but when you’re getting cooked out there, feelings start getting involved,” Lawson said. “That’s probably what happened. Goran Dragic couldn’t check me and just got mad.”
With the win, the Nuggets avoided their first four-game losing streak since February 2007. They will try to keep the momentum going Thursday against the streaking Miami Heat. Led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat has won 21 of its past 22 games.
“(Beating Phoenix) was a good building block,” Afflalo said. “It was good for us to come out and play well because we have a really, really good team – and a hot team – coming in. They’re playing well, so it’ll be a good game.”
ETC: The Nuggets improved to 5-0 when Lawson records at least 10 points, five assists and five rebounds in a game … Denver’s 34-point victory was its largest ever against Phoenix … Dating to the 1997-98 season the Nuggets are 69-5 when scoring at least 120 points … Martin, Lawson and Chris Andersen all returned to the lineup after sitting out Sunday’s game because of sore knees.