DENVER (AP)—If Andre Miller can’t find an open man for an easy bucket, Earl Boykins probably can. If Wesley Person can’t spot up and hit a long-range jumper, Miller, Boykins or someone else on the Denver Nuggets probably can.
Miller had 22 points and eight assists and the streaking Nuggets made more than half their shots for the third straight game Sunday night in a 114-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We’re just finding the right guys at the right times and moving the ball up the court,” Miller said to explain his team’s recent shooting spree.
By winning for the 11th time in 12 games, Denver stayed 2 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota in the race for the last playoff spot in the West and pulled within 2 1/2 of Memphis for seventh place.
The Bucks, led by 24 points from Desmond Mason, played hard and kept things close for most of the game. When Tony Kukoc made his fourth 3-pointer with 10:30 left, Milwaukee trailed only 91-85.
Lately, though, Denver has been moving the ball well and shooting even better. The Nuggets put a six-point game out of reach during a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter, courtesy of a long jumper and two free throws from Boykins and three long-range jumpers from Person, who is 31-for-60 since the Nuggets acquired him eight games ago.
“This is a perfect fit for me,” Person said. “I don’t have to do much. All I have to do is keep knocking down shots and play the game the right way.”
Coach George Karl thinks Person is part of the reason Denver can’t seem to miss these days.
“I think it’s contagious,” Karl said.
The Nuggets, a 44-percent shooting team this season, made 56 percent against the Bucks, marking the third straight game they’ve shot 54 percent or better and scored at least 114 points.
Even though they’ve compiled them against losing teams—the Bobcats, Clippers and Bucks—those kind of numbers are almost unheard of in the NBA, regardless of the opponent. Almost as rare are the 25-plus-assist nights the Nuggets have been having to trigger the good shooting. With 27 more Sunday, Denver has 98 in its past three games.
“The point guard play the last three games—I don’t think you could be much more satisfied,” Karl said.
Miller had seven of his assists in the first quarter, most of which went to Kenyon Martin, who finished with 19 points. Boykins finished with 10 points and eight assists and Carmelo Anthony had 15 points.
Denver also scored 28 fast-break points—a result Karl attributes to a focus on pushing the pace and keeping the ball moving, the way Denver did it in the days of Doug Moe, who is now working as Karl’s assistant.
“We didn’t follow through on our game plan, which was to limit their transition and not let them run up and down the court,” Bucks guard Michael Redd said.
The game marked the return of Nene to Denver’s lineup. Out for the last 13 games with a knee sprain, the power forward returned and made three buckets— including a sweet, spinning, left-handed shot in the lane—in seven minutes.
When the Nuggets were struggling early this season, there was talk they might deal Nene to get a shooting guard—someone like Redd, who will be a free agent after this season. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe stood pat, though, and Sunday it looked like a good decision: Redd finished with 23 points, but shot only 8-for-25.
“We struggle when our perimeter guys don’t shoot the ball well,” coach Terry Porter said. “Mason had a good night, but the guys overall had a tough one.”
Karl improved to 2-0 this season against the Bucks, the team he left after the 2003 season. Including wins over Cleveland and Golden State, Karl is 4-0 this season against his former teams. … Bucks guard T.J. Ford returned to Texas to continue his rehabilitation from neck surgery. … Asked if he had any interest in the job opening in Portland, where he used to play, Porter said: “No interest. My attention is on Milwaukee. I want to see the turnaround through.” … Karl on Anthony’s improvement since the coach arrived: “He’s learning that he has a coach who does not like volume shooting. He likes volume winning over volume shooting.”