No sign of rust for Fernandez as Nuggets extend streak to six
Denver reserve scores season-high 23 points in return from injury
His right foot remains a little sore, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with Rudy Fernandez’s shooting touch.
After sitting out four of Denver’s previous five games, Fernandez made 9-of-11 shots and scored a season-high 23 points Friday night as the Nuggets extended their winning streak to six with a 96-81 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Pepsi Center.
“When I’m injured, I try to improve my shot,” Fernandez said. “I feel good. The rest is helping me a lot.”
Fernandez made very few mistakes while playing a season-high 33 minutes. Stepping between two guys who each outweighed him by more than 50 pounds might have been his only lapse in judgment.
Nuggets forward Al Harrington and former Denver forward Linas Kleiza picked up technical fouls after a confrontation with 30 seconds remaining. As the two stood face-to-face, the 185-pound Fernandez stepped in front of Harrington as words were exchanged.
“I try to separate them but I’m not the strongest on the team,” Fernandez said with a smile. “Next time, I stay behind him and try to separate (from) behind.”
Denver big man Nene also came to the aide of Harrington, who later apologized to Fernandez. It illustrated the camaraderie the new-look Nuggets have built in just a short time.
“We try to take care of each other and play together,” Nene said. “When you see someone with tricky movement and running behind your teammates, you’re going to try to protect him. What matters is the win. We got a victory and that’s what matters.”
After sweeping a five-game road trip for the first time in team history, the Nuggets kept the momentum going in their return to Pepsi Center. Denver built a 23-point first-half lead and then staved off a late Raptors comeback.
Toronto got within six points in the fourth quarter and trailed 88-80 with 3:01 remaining before the Nuggets closed the game with an 8-1 run. The Raptors went without a field goal during that span.
“There's some human nature to getting a big lead and kind of cruise controlling it a little bit,” Denver coach George Karl said. “We kind of went away from trying to put speed and attacking the rim and moving and spacing.
“But it's still a quality win and our schedule now gets to the real nitty-gritty. We start on Sunday against the Clippers, so it'll be fun. I think our team is in a good place.”
Though Fernandez and starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo (groin strain) returned to the lineup, the Nuggets were without starting point guard Ty Lawson, who sat out with a sprained left ankle. Lawson, averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 assists, could return Sunday when Denver plays the Los Angeles Clippers at Pepsi Center.
With Lawson out, Andre Miller played 39 minutes and finished with 13 points and a season high-tying 12 assists. He also made a 60-foot shot that gave Denver a 28-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
The Nuggets used a 16-4 run to push the lead to 50-27 in the second quarter. Fernandez hit two three-pointers and scored eight points during a run. He finished 5-for-7 from behind the arc and became the seventh player to lead Denver in scoring this season.
“Rudy was fantastic offensively,” Karl said. “His shooting was incredible. I actually thought his defense in the second half was as good as his offense.”
Fernandez, who recorded three steals, said his Achilles’ felt much better than a few days earlier when he played just 12 minutes against the Washington Wizards. He sat out the following two games and showed no signs of rust against Toronto.
“Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench in mothballs, shooting from deep, we’ve got to make him miss,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve got to make him miss.”
Fernandez was Denver’s leading scorer, but he had plenty of support. Danilo Gallinari had 21 points, and Nene added 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Nuggets improved to 12-3 in January and 14-5 overall.
“George said at the start of the month, we could get 12 to 13 (wins),” Harrington said. “We’ve got 12 and have an opportunity to get a couple more before the end of the month. We’ve got a six-game winning streak. Just gotta keep pushing.”
Notes: Miller recorded his third straight double-double and is averaging 13 points and 10 assists over the past six games … Gallinari is averaging 25.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in his last four games … Toronto’s 81 points were a season-low for a Nuggets opponent … Denver improved to 8-0 against Eastern Conference teams … The Raptors were without leading scorer Andrea Bargnani, who is out indefinitely with a calf injury … Kleiza, who played for the Nuggets from 2005-09, finished with two points on 1-for-7 shooting ... Denver improved to 14-1 against Toronto since the start of the 2004-05 season.