Earl Boykins scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets continued a belated playoff push with their sixth straight victory, beating the Clippers 105-89 on Saturday night.
Boykins, who went undrafted, played for five NBA teams—including the Clippers—before landing in Denver last season. Now, the short player is making those teams look short-sighted.
“I’m not seeing many teams controlling him,” Karl said. “We haven’t really been hurt by him being small. It’s a new experience for me because I’ve never been an advocate of little guards—but in the second half, he was in total control of that game. He was doing whatever he wanted to do.”
Boykins has scored in double figures in 20 of his last 23 games and has four 20-point efforts during that stretch. On Jan. 18 at Seattle, he set an NBA record for points in an overtime period with 15.
“I’m enjoying my time in Denver,” Boykins said. “They’re allowing me to go out and just play. They’re giving me minutes and giving me an opportunity to prove that I was a better point guard than they thought I was here.”
Carmelo Anthony had 21 points for the Nuggets, who equaled their longest winning streak since a seven-game stretch from Nov. 18-Dec. 2, 1989. They improved to 30-29 and went over .500 for the first time since Dec. 21 (13-12).
The Nuggets have made up 6 1/2 games on the Lakers to pull even with them for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth—15 1/2 games behind first-place San Antonio.
“Right now we’re playing the best basketball we’ve played all year,” Boykins said. “We have guys who are playing hard and playing together, we have a lot of confidence and we’re tough to beat right now.
“The biggest thing (Karl has) brought is mental toughness. We believe that we can win every game and he just builds confidence.”
After ending an eight-year playoff drought last season, the Nuggets got off to a 13-9 start despite losing shooting guard Voshon Lenard on opening night with a torn left Achilles’ tendon. But they lost 11 of their next 12 games and have been clawing back into playoff contention ever since.
Jeff Bzdelik was fired on Dec. 28 with a 13-15 record and replaced by assistant Michael Cooper on an interim basis. The team was 4-10 under Cooper, but is 13-4 since Karl took over on Jan. 27.
“I liked this team,” Karl said. “When I watched them on film and on TV, it reminded me of my Seattle teams. I mean, it was great being in Milwaukee and coaching offense, but it’s a lot more enjoyable for me to coach defense. And that’s kind of what we’re doing here.”
Bobby Simmons led Los Angeles with 18 points, and Elton Brand had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Corey Maggette, who had 33 points against the Nuggets in a 102-98 victory on Jan. 3, was held to 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting by a defense that has held its last three opponents under 90 points.
With Kenyon Martin missing his second straight game because of tendinitis in his left knee, Denver used its 18th different starting lineup. Marcus Camby had 14 points and 12 rebounds, helping end the Clippers’ seven-game home winning streak. Wesley Person, signed by the Nuggets on Thursday after getting released by Miami, scored 10 points.
Trailing by 13 at halftime, Los Angeles would get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
The Clippers did not make a field goal in the fourth quarter until Kenny Anderson hit a short jumper with 7:50 to play. The Nuggets had opened the period with a 10-1 spurt that increased the margin to 91-71.
Bryon Russell scored all of his 11 points during a two-minute span of the second quarter, making three 3-point shots and a pair of free throws to help Denver build a 59-46 halftime lead. Russell, the fifth player off the Nuggets’ bench, entered the game after starter Francisco Elson picked up his third foul with 10:50 left in the half.
“They left me open,” Russell said. “Wesley Person hit a couple of 3s before that, and I guess they decided to concentrate on him.”
Camby, who blocked seven shots in Thursday’s 96-87 victory at Indiana, had three blocks in the first quarter against the Clippers.
“Camby’s a shot blocker, and he’s proven that every single year he’s been in the league,” Brand said. “He blocked some shots early and set a tone for the game.”
Denver’s winning streak has coincided with Karl’s insertion of DerMarr Johnson into the starting lineup. … Clippers No. 1 draft pick Shaun Livingston will decide in a couple of weeks whether to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder to repair cartilage damage. … The Clippers are four games back and have to jump over three teams, including Minnesota, to make the postseason for the first time since 1997.