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Surging Nuggets Beat LeBron, Cavs for Fourth Straight Road Win
CLEVELAND – Believeland was reserved for Nuggets dreams on Saturday night.
Road games have been a constant bugaboo all season long. One of the best home teams in the NBA, the Nuggets had yet to master giving consistent performances on the road. And yet, they understand that getting to where they want to be – the playoffs – requires them to quickly make sense of away games that have been as confounding as putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle.
But maybe, just maybe, the light bulb is switching on.
The Nuggets stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, 126-117. It was not a vintage performance. But it was the Nuggets fourth straight road win, and it was authored by an offense that is becoming as potent on the road as it is in the Pepsi Center.
“I don’t know what it is,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Confidence. I think our guys understand. Because even before these four wins, we had lost a couple of real close games; games that we were in. Right now, I think there’s a great belief in our locker room. I love the chemistry, I love the vibe. And I love the fact that we’re doing it as one, collectively. That’s the most important thing about our team right now.”
It is the first time the Nuggets have won four straight road games since December 2013.
So what are they figuring out on the road?
“Just how tough it is to win, how important it is to get out to better starts,” guard Will Barton said. “Usually, when we were on the road we got out to slow starts and tried to walk teams down. Now we’re jumping out, or keeping the game closer, then we can make our push.”
In fact, the Nuggets have held leads after the first quarter in every game during this road winning streak. They are averaging 33.7 points in those first quarters and, at the end of them, are leading by an average of six points. Cleveland’s 31 points at the end of Saturday night’s first quarter was the only time the Nuggets allowed more than 30 points in the opening frame during this span.
“We’ve just got to keep rolling,” said guard Gary Harris, who poured in 32 points against the Cavs. “We’re on a three-game road trip right now, so we’ve got to try to close it out in Dallas.”
There were eye-opening stats coming from everywhere, but it started at the 3-point line, where the Nuggets made 19 of them. They outscored Cleveland 57-27 from the 3-point line, and when the Cavs pushed in the fourth quarter to get back in the game and take the lead, it was the Nuggets ability to push back by making a 3-pointer that kept them in front.
Harris made six of his 10 3-point attempts. Jamal Murray was 3-of-4 from the arc. Barton made 4-of-10 from deep. Eight different Nuggets made at least one trey.
“It makes the game much easier,” said Barton, who had 23 points. “Threes add up. We’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot it, and we have confidence in ourselves. We keep making the right play and the extra pass and guys knocked down shots.”
Ball movement was key. It’s no secret the Cavaliers have struggled on defense pretty much all-season long. The Nuggets came into The Q with one of the NBA’s most potent offenses. That was not a good combination for LeBron James – who had a triple-double in the game – and the Cavs.
The Nuggets had 35 assists and just nine turnovers.
“To beat a talented team like Cleveland, who was coming off a loss against Philly, and us being on a back-to-back, we didn’t want to beat ourselves,” Malone said. “And we never did that tonight. Thirty-five assists and only nine turnovers is an incredible number.”
Five Nuggets scored in double figures.
“Every time they made a run we didn’t fold,” Malone said. “Different guys stepped up. … This was a win, and it was a group win. And everybody that played tonight definitely participated in it.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter