Depleted Nuggets fall to Spurs in final game before break
By the time the Nuggets slogged their way home through several inches of snow Thursday morning, the San Antonio Spurs were fast asleep with visions of three-pointers dancing in their heads.
The Nuggets had touched down from Los Angeles shortly after 3 a.m. following a tough loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs were well-rested after holding veteran stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker out of a 40-point defeat in Portland on Tuesday.
Duncan and Parker were back in action at Pepsi Center on Thursday in the final game before the All-Star break, while Denver remained without injured starters Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Nene, along with reserve guard Rudy Fernandez.
In that context, the result was almost predictable.
Led by DeJuan Blair’s career-high 28 points and Parker’s 16 points and 12 assists, the Spurs built a 28-point first-half lead and were never seriously threatened in a 114-99 win over the Nuggets.
“It wasn’t a fair fight,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Considering what they had to go through, not just with injuries but with the schedule they just had … it was not a fair fight.
“They deserve a lot of credit for hanging the whole game and making a run in the second half. A lot of teams would have just packed it in. They showed a lot of character, and I’m sure (Nuggets coach) George (Karl) is proud of that.”
Karl spent most of the first three quarters imploring his team to be more aggressive defensively as the Spurs continually used the pick-and-roll to get easy shots in the paint and uncontested looks from three-point range.
The Spurs hit 11-of-23 three-pointers through three quarters and led by 20 heading to the fourth before the Nuggets mounted a charge.
Corey Brewer scored nine straight points to get Denver within 12 with 6:46 remaining, but the Nuggets could never get any closer. Brewer finished with 23 points, while Andre Miller added 20 points and seven assists.
“It was a rough night,” Brewer said. “The fourth game in five nights, everyone is a little tired. Don’t have a lot of players right now, but we just tried to keep playing hard.”
And for that, Karl was appreciative.
“The second half, I was very happy with the team,” he said. “We talked about having 24 minutes to play the game the right way. In a lot of ways we did. We found the pass a little more. Offensively, Corey got us to the rim. We seemed to have a bounce in our step a little bit.”
For the past three weeks, the Nuggets have been limping as much as bouncing. Without a full complement of players, they dropped to 18-17 on the season and 9-8 at home; Denver lost eight home games all of last season.
The Nuggets will now have four days off during the NBA All-Star break before returning to practice Tuesday. Ten of their first 12 games after the break will be at home.
“My gut says it’s going to be a helluva run,” Karl said. “The second half is going to be extremely important to re-establish home court, re-establish and regroup our defense and understand that the things that bring confidence to us are intensity and passing the ball to each other.”
When the Nuggets reconvene, Fernandez (lower back strain), Lawson (sprained ankle) and Nene (strained calf) likely will be ready to practice. Gallinari, who was expected to be sidelined for about a month after spraining his ankle on Feb. 6, probably won’t be far behind.
“We’re just excited to get everybody back,” veteran Al Harrington said. “We just need to get those guys out of the training room and back on the court by any means necessary. That’s going to make all the difference in the world.”
Notes: Arron Afflalo had 19 points for Denver and is averaging 21.5 in his past four games … Nuggets forward Jordan Hamilton grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, while fellow rookie Julyan Stone had a career-high seven assists … Since start of 2009-10 season, the Nuggets have lost three home games by 15 points or more; all three have come against the Spurs … As part of Hardwood Classics night, the Nuggets wore throwback uniforms honoring their ABA history. Former Nuggets guards Fatty Taylor and Chuck Williams presented the game ball.