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Ty Lawson emerging as star for Denver Nuggets

Game-winning shot latest step in point guard's progression

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson celebrates after hitting the game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 1.
Doug Pensinger/NBAE/Getty Images

There are some general guidelines for being an NBA superstar.

Hit big shots. Make your teammates better. Play consistently at a high level.

Based on his play over the past six weeks, Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is building a good case for superstar status.

With his game-winning shot (on national TV, no less) against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lawson took another step in the process of becoming the elite player that Denver’s coaches and front-office executives have always envisioned.

Lawson, 25, is in the midst of the most productive stretch of his career, averaging 20.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.64 steals over the past 22 games. He is shooting 49.4 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range.

“He can play, he can play,” Oklahoma City’s All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook said. “He runs their basketball club.”

Since acquiring current players Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov on Feb. 22, 2011, the Nuggets (38-22) have been known as a successful team without a star.

As they make a push for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, Lawson is changing that perception.

He had scored at least 20 points in eight straight games before finishing with 11 against Oklahoma City. Despite a rough shooting night, Lawson had no fear of taking the final shot with the game on the line.

“It takes years to get familiar with the stress and the pressure, and also exhilaration when you make it and the disappointment when you miss it,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.

“Some people have trouble on that stage. Ty has had some mistakes there. Now I think he’s starting to play a lot better, and I think making that shot will give him more confidence to continue to take that shot.”

After a slow start to his fourth NBA season, Lawson began to pick up his play around mid-January. The Nuggets have followed his lead, winning 20 of their past 26 games.

The dramatic finish Friday against the Thunder also helped quiet talk about Denver’s perceived lack of a closer.

“Everybody has confidence in each other whoever is taking that shot down the stretch,” Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala said. “It was really good to see the ball go in the hole.”

Though Lawson’s big shot was magnified by an ESPN broadcast, he has excelled in late-game situations throughout the season. Entering play Sunday, he ranked fifth in the NBA in clutch scoring (less than 5 minutes left with his team leading or trailing by five points or less) while shooting .479 from the field.

“He’s been really playing well, so his confidence is already there,” Iguodala said. “It will continue to drive higher and higher. He’ll be more in a comfort zone. Thinking every shot’s going to go in is going to help your percentage. Sometimes it’s more mental than anything.”

For his part, Lawson has maintained a sense of humility throughout his extended stretch of impressive games. He attributes his strong play to simply being more aggressive and having teammates knock down shots when he runs into traffic.

That being said, he enjoyed the opportunity to take – and make – the final shot against Oklahoma City.

“It means being a leader and being one of the top options on the team,” Lawson said. “It means the team has a lot of trust in you. It feels good to know I have everybody’s support behind me.”


HAWKS AT NUGGETS


WHEN:
7 p.m. MT
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950

PROBABLE STARTERS
DENVER

F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

ATLANTA
F Deshawn Stevenson
F Josh Smith
C Al Horford
G Kyle Korver
G Jeff Teague

INJURY REPORT
DENVER:
No injuries to report
ATLANTA: Lou Williams (torn ACL, right knee) is out.

SERIES NOTES
Overall this series has been very close since 2003-04, with Denver going 10-8 … The Nuggets have won seven of the last eight games in Denver against the Hawks …The Nuggets have lost four of their last five games at Atlanta, and are only 3-19 on the road against the Hawks since the 1989-90 season (lost 14-straight from 1989-2004) … Before Denver swept the season series in both 2011-12 (1-0) and 2010-11 (2-0), the teams had split 1-1 in each of the five previous seasons … The Nuggets second to last win in Atlanta (100-87 on 12/12/06) marked the widest margin of victory for Denver in Atlanta since the 1982-83 season (126-112 on 2/3/83) … Only one Hawk has ever topped 40+ against the Nuggets – that being John Drew with 50 on 12/30/78 in Atlanta … Only once since joining the NBA have the Nuggets failed to record a steal in a game, and that was at Atlanta on 10/21/78.