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Nuggets cruise past Suns to clinch No. 3 seed in West

By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com

Posted April 17 2013 21:48

Suspense is for mystery novels, Hollywood thrillers and reality show eliminations.

The Nuggets wanted no part of that script in their regular-season finale at Pepsi Center.

Focused from the opening tip, Denver jumped out to a big first-half lead and coasted to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 118-98 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.

The Nuggets finished the season with an NBA team record 57 victories and a 23-game home winning streak. Denver’s 38 wins at Pepsi Center were the most since the team joined the NBA in 1976.

"First of all, I would like to thank our fans," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I think we have some of the best fans this year, and we stole some games here at home because their intensity matches our players’ intensity.

Denver will face the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs starting Saturday at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets went 3-1 against Golden State during the regular-season but the two teams haven't played each other since Jan. 13.

Leaving nothing to chance with the No. 3 seed on the line, the Nuggets led Phoenix by 26 points at halftime, and never allowed the Suns to get closer than 16 the rest of the way.

"When you’re plaing a team like Phoenix, you don’t want to make it too comfortable and make them feel like it’s a game," Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler. "You want to keep your foot on the pedal."

Chandler led Denver with 21 points, while Andre Iguodala added 20 as Karl was able to get his starters some rest heading into the postseason.

Reserves Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov also turned in strong performances. Randolph had 11 points and a season-high 14 rebounds, while Mozgov finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

"Coach explained how important this game is to go into the playoffs on a good win," Randolph said. "Everybody did a good job coming out and executing the game plan."

Randolph, who began his career with Golden State, has played well off the bench in the absence of starting forward Kenneth Faried, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a sprained left ankle.

"There's a window there (for Randolph)," Karl said. "It will be interesting to see how we fill it. He could be one of our important guys off the bench." Faried, meanwhile, has been in the training room every day since being injured on Sunday, but his status for the start of the playoffs remains uncertain.

The first-round playoff schedule is favorable for his recovery; there are two days between Games 1 and 2, followed by another two-day break leading up to Game 3.

STAR OF THE GAME

Anthony Randolph

Points 11 4-5 FG, 3-3 FT
Rebounds 14, 3 OFF 11 DEF
Assists 2
Steals 1
Blocks 3
GAME LEADERS
Points Wilson Chandler 21
Rebounds Anthony Randolph 14
Assists Kendall Marshall 14
Steals P.J. Tucker 3
Blocks Anthony Randolph 3
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Nuggets rookie Evan Fournier on preparing for his first playoff appearance

"It feels amazing. If three weeks ago someone said, 'You might have a chance to play in the playoffs.’ I would have said no way. It is just an amazing feeling."

KEY MOMENT

After strong first quarter, Nuggets never look back

Wilson Chandler came out aggressive from the start, scoring 13 of Denver's first 24 points. The Nuggets closed the first quarter on an 11-2 run to take a commanding 35-20 lead into the second.
VIDEO RECAP

Postgame Quotes

Nuggets coach George Karl

On overall feelings about the season:
“First of all, I would like to thank our fans. I think we have some of the best fans this year and we stole some games here at home because their intensity matches our players’ intensity. [A] 38-3 [home record], that’s probably in the top 50 records in NBA history.”

On the game going as planned:
“I thought our start of the game was first-class. Wilson [Chandler] got us off to a great start; Ty [Lawson] and Wilson had some things going. Our bench is still struggling a little bit but I think Andre [Miller] and Corey [Brewer] will get that straightened out and we’ll be ready to go.”

On Wilson Chandler’s role heading into the playoffs:
“My feeling is, when I saw him in January starting to play at such a high level, I thought he was the key to our team and probably the key to us being special without the injuries. Now with the injuries, I think that has just multiplied. I can use him all over the place; his defense is first-class.”

On feelings towards potential first-round opponents:
“[Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors] are both going to want to play fast, which I think is good for us. I don’t want to give an interpretation because I haven’t watched enough film or had enough impression of their coaching staff. We are going to have to do good things against both teams. The first two games at home, we just have to be ready for.”

Nuggets guard Evan Fournier

On if he can be a reliable three-point shooter for Denver:
On contributing in late-season games: “It feels amazing. If three weeks ago someone said, 'You might have a chance to play in the playoffs.’ I would have said no way. It is just an amazing feeling.” On winning 57 games this season:
“That is great, but this my first NBA season. I have never won 20 games like [Anthony] Randolph, or Wilson [Chandler] did with New York.”

On what is the most important thing to do in playoffs:
“I think for us that is to stay focused. We need to be focused on what we have to do. I think we are going to play Golden State, and that might mean transition defense. That could also mean guarding the three-ball as well.”

On how home crowd will help in the playoffs:
“I expect a big-time things with the crowd. I know it is going to be cool. Hopefully, we are going to win all of the games this series for them.”

Nuggets guard/forward Andre Iguodala

On challenge of getting to know teammates through the season:
“I think we have a lot of guys who can interchange anyplace on a basketball court. We have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions, and know how to play basketball. I think that was a big key for us. Once we settled in, we started to get things rolling. We found our niche, and things started happening and we started getting wins. The outcome is where we are out right now.”

On confidence level going into the first round of the playoffs:
“I feel like we are a confident team no matter who we are playing against. We respect our opponents, and that is definitely something we are going to have to continue to do coming up in this first round. We have to respect whoever we are playing, and we have to play our best basketball to win.”

On what team can do in playoffs:
“We will see. We matched up against everyone well. I think there was two teams we didn’t beat, Washington was one, and Miami was the other. Other than that, we were just in about every other game. We are confident each and every night, but in order for us to win, we have to play good basketball.”

Suns coach Lindsey Hunter

On Denver’s determination:
“Of course. We knew; it wasn’t a surprise. They are trying to compete for a championship and that’s what teams like that do. It was a good experience for our guys to see and to feel what that feels like. If that is what we are shooting for, and if that’s what we are going to become, to feel that and understand that is good for us. I don’t think we responded well in the first half; I think we were a lot better in the second half. Our younger guys really played hard and competed and that’s what it’s about.”

On finishing the season:
“One game doesn’t dictate how we feel in total. Of course we would have liked to have tried to make it a game and compete to win it but we didn’t; that’s over with. All in all, I think our last few games were good. You can see growth in [our guys] and that’s important to us. I think a lot of [our players] are going off into the summer on a high note. They got some experience that was well needed and they played well.”

On the team’s performance:
“[Markieff Morris] was a little flat tonight. Kendall [Marshall] did an excellent job distributing the ball. I think Wesley [Johnson], in the first half, shot the ball well, did some good things. [P.J.] Tucker was Tucker; he brings it every night and those are the type of things that we will continue to look for and build on.”

Suns point guard Kendall Marshall

On the game:
“First of all, you have to give Denver credit. They did what they were supposed to do. It’s frustrating that we kind of just laid down. Denver is a team that likes to throw the first punch. They like to get out and run, they executed that. As professionals we have to find a way to counteract that we didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”

On how he was able to share the ball:
“When the game is out of hand that doesn’t really matter. I have to do a much better job of making sure we are getting great shots early and hopefully it will pay off next year.”

POSTGAME NOTES

INDIVIDUAL

• Andre Iguodala registered 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks tonight. It was just the eighth time in his career he has reached all those numbers in the same game. It was his 11th 20-point game of the year (9-2).

• In his last seven games, Iguodala is averaging 16.7 points, 8.4 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 1.86 steals and 1.00 blocks.

• Wilson Chandler posted 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. It was just the third time in his career he has reached those numbers. Chandler has scored 20+ points 12 times this season, with Denver going 11-1 in those games.

• The Nuggets improve to 6-0 when Fournier plays 20+ minutes in a game. In those games, Fournier is averaging 16.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.17 steals while shooting 38-of-66 (.576) from the field and 8-of-19 (.421) from beyond the arc.

• Anthony Randolph registered 11 points, a season-high 14 rebounds and a season-high tying three blocks. It was his 21st career double-double.

• Timofey Mozgov posted 10 points and 10 rebounds tonight. It was his second career double-double.

TEAM

• With tonight’s win, Denver adds to their NBA franchise record with 57 wins in a season as well as adding to their NBA franchise record 38 home wins. Additionally, they extended their NBA franchise record to 23 consecutive home wins.

• Denver earned the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, just the third time they have been a 3 seed and the first time since 2005-06 when they faced the Los Angeles Clippers.

• The Suns scored 98 points, moving the Nuggets to 34-3 when allowing fewer than 100 points.

• The Nuggets have now won 40 of their last 41 home games when scoring 100+ points and are 29-3 on the year when scoring 110+ points.

• Denver shot .527 (49-93 FG) from the field tonight and are now 15-0 at home when shooting 50%-or-better. Additionally, they have now won 49 straight home games when accomplishing this as well as 68 of their last 69 and 87 of their last 89 at home when doing so.

• The Nuggets shot .800 (16-20 FT) from the free throw line and are now 12-3 when shooting 80%-or-better from the line.

• Both Andre Iguodala (20 points) and Wilson Chandler (21 points) scored 20+ tonight, moving Denver to 23-6 when two-or-more players score 20+. They have now won 20 straight when accomplishing this.

• Both Anthony Randolph (11 points, 14 rebounds) and Timofey Mozgov (10 points, 10 rebounds) both registered double-doubles. Denver is now 13-2 when two-plus players post double-doubles in the same game.

• Denver registered a season-high-tying 35 fast break points, moving to 17-2 when scoring 25+ on the break. The last time Denver had more than 35 fast-break points was 2/25/10 at GSW when they had 39.

• The Nuggets tallied an NBA season-high 80 points in the paint. It was their 11th game with 70+ points in the paint (8-3 in those games).

• Denver outrebounded the Suns 54 to 47, improving to 19-3 when collecting 50-or-more rebounds.