Home winning streak ends as Nuggets fall to New Orleans

Lawson, Gallinari score 15 apiece, but defense struggles to stop Hornets

Pressuring the ball defensively and pushing the pace at every opportunity, the Denver Nuggets play one of the most physically taxing styles in the NBA.

Given a difficult two-week opening stretch that featured nine games in 13 days, the early season schedule was mentally taxing as well.

The physical and mental fatigue combined to cause some problems for the Nuggets on Monday night as the New Orleans Hornets ended a six-game losing streak with a 94-81 victory at Pepsi Center.

“It just seemed liked like we had dead legs,” Denver forward Al Harrington said. “We just weren’t ourselves and, as a result, we weren’t getting up and down the court like we usually do. We just have to lick our wounds, come and have a practice (Tuesday) and beat New Jersey on Wednesday.”

Averaging 104 points coming into the game, the Nuggets needed three baskets in the final 64 seconds just to break the 80-mark. They shot 40.8 percent from the field, committed 17 turnovers and managed just four steals.

New Orleans, meanwhile, missed eight of its first 10 shots, yet still finished 52 percent from the floor. The Hornets took the lead less than a minute into the second quarter and never trailed again.

“I just don’t think we played with the attitude and aggressiveness that we need to play with to be successful,” Karl said. “New Orleans did a great job. I thought they were probably the first team that slowed us down and took us away from the paint. We could never find the three-ball or the penetration that we normally get into the game.”

After hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers in the first 11 minutes, Denver went 5-for-19 from long range. The Hornets were content to pack the lane and prevent the Nuggets from getting to the rim with any consistency.

“Just one of those nights,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “We couldn’t get anything going, couldn’t knock down shots, couldn’t get any rhythm. Coach said we’re going to have three to five of these a year. This is one of them.”

Lawson’s challenge to break down the Hornets defense became more difficult when he strained his right foot in the final minute of the second quarter. He came off the bench to start the second half and struggled to find a rhythm.

“It’s a little sore,” Lawson said. “Should get better in the next couple days. We’ll see how it reacts tonight and (Tuesday).”

Lawson finished with 15 points and three assists, while Danilo Gallinari added 15 points and four rebounds. Nene, playing with a strained left heel, had nine points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes for the Nuggets, who fell to 4-1 at home this season.

“I don’t want to play the way I played tonight,” Nene said. “The team doesn’t want to play the way it did tonight. It’s hard. Sometimes we need this kind of loss to keep you humble and make you work hard.”

As painful as it might be, the Nuggets will review game film Tuesday and then get on the practice court for the first time in five days. Denver (6-4) returns to action Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets, another struggling team that could pose problems if taken lightly.

“We didn’t get any juice in the building (Monday),” Karl said. “It seemed like everybody was watching the (BSC title) game. I think you’re seeing a lot of these games in the lockout type of year that one team comes in and does all the right things and the other team is searching. We didn’t find any answers tonight.”

That being said, Karl is confident that the New Orleans game was a temporary setback in a unique 66-game season.

“Our schedule has been pretty high-level and intense and difficult,” he said. “We survived it. This loss isn’t going to throw away all the good basketball we’ve played, but it’s going to make us go back and hopefully be humbled by the defeat and go out and work hard and figure out how to get better.”

Notes: Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo went 8-for-10 from the free throw line, setting a career-high for attempts and tying his career high in makes … New Orleans also defeated the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Jan. 9, 2011 … Denver scored its fewest points in a home loss since falling to Cleveland 92-73 on Dec. 2, 2004 … Hornets center Chris Kaman (20 points) and guard Marco Belinelli (19) finished with season-highs in scoring, while forward Carl Landry matched his season-high with 21 points.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...