Jamal Mashburn scored 12 of his 24 points in the first quarter as the Hornets snapped a two-game losing streak with a 100-92 victory over the hapless Nuggets.
“We’ve been struggling with our half-court offense, especially our shooting,” New Orleans coach Paul Silas said. “It was nice to see that come back again. We have to continue to hold the fort until we get healthy.”
New Orleans, which had averaged just 81 points in three games since the All-Star break, opened a 30-20 lead after 12 minutes and never trailed thereafter.
“I think we’re gearing up for the playoffs and trying to get right for that,” Mashburn said. “People have to understand that we’re going to have bad shooting nights at times. But the defense has been there, and that’s the most important thing.”
David Wesley scored 20 points in three quarters for New Orleans, while P.J. Brown and Jamaal Magloire each recorded double-doubles. Brown, who missed the Hornets’ last game due to a death in the family, recorded 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Magloire had 13 and 11.
“He’s (Brown) a steady, rock-solid foward,” Mashburn added. “He hits the open jumper, he knows the offense. He’s a very big piece to this puzzle. We need his defense and his rebounding.”
All five starters scored in double figures for New Orleans as George Lynch chipped in 11 points.
“We played well enough to win,” Lynch said. “But against a better club, we would have had to play better. Now, we have to prepare for a tough game at Orlando (on Tuesday).”
The Hornets offset 20 turnovers by shooting just under 54 percent (37-of-69) from the field. Denver committed just 10 turnovers but shot 42.5 percent (34-of-80), including only 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
“I thought we had too many turnovers,” Wesley said. “But we needed this game after dropping two in a row to two pretty good teams (Indiana and Minnesota). We have to make certain we beat the teams that we are supposed to defeat and play well enough to give ourselves a chance against the elite teams. It was a refreshing win.”
Trailing 81-67 early in the fourth quarter, Denver outhustled New Orleans, forcing a number of turnovers to climb back into the game. Rookie Junior Harrington hit a pair from the line to cap a 17-8 spurt that pulled the Nuggets within 89-84 with 5:10 left.
But Lynch and Mashburn answered with layups. Following a jumper by Denver’s Rodney White, Lynch drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 96-86 with 3:40 left.
“We played OK defensively,” Silas said. “I wouldn’t say that it was great, but I was satisfied with it. I’m satisfied with the effort tonight.”
Making its first visit to New Orleans in 24 years, Denver dropped to 3-24 on the road, including 0-12 against the Eastern Conference.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said of the Nuggets’ road woes. “This is a work in progress about our future and who gives a rat’s butt if we’ve lost so many games on the road. I don’t care.”
“I didn’t feel good about my game,” Howard said. “No matter how many points you score, winning is what matters. I’d rather score nine points if we win the game. This is a team game. It’s about winning. We lost the game, so individual accolades don’t count.”
New Orleans closed the first period with seven straight points, taking a 30-20 lead on Courtney Alexander’s jumper with 37 seconds left in the quarter. The Hornets maintained a double-digit lead until the Nuggets made their run in the fourth quarter.
“We had to come at them with energy to get this win,” Silas said. “We got it, and that’s what counts.”
“The only negative was that we didn’t knock those guys out like we should have,” Brown added. “We had a chance to put them away, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”
Denver played without forward Marcus Camby, who was sidelined with a right ankle sprain.
Things do not get any easier for the Nuggets, who head to San Antonio before returning home to face Minnesota and Utah.
“We’re on the road against a playoff team, one of the better teams in the East,” Bzdelik said. “We’re not playing Little Sisters of the Poor here. It’s hard to win on the road and it’s hard to win at home, especially when the other teams have more games in the playoffs than we have games played.”