DENVER (AP)—Walking off the court after securing a playoff berth, the Denver Nuggets simply traded high-fives.
It was a stark contrast to the wild celebration of a year ago, but this is a much different team with much higher expectations—even after a horrible start to the season.
Carmelo Anthony scored 11 of his 32 points during a key third-quarter run and Andre Miller had 16 assists, helping the Nuggets clinch consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in a decade with a 122-106 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.
“It is different. Last year it came down to the last game and we were glad to clinch,” Anthony said. “It’s a great feeling to clinch as early as we did.”
Denver reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 1995, and followed that run with a dramatic turnaround this year.
Eight games under .500 when George Karl took over as coach, the Nuggets have matched a season-high with eight straight wins and have won 22 of 24 overall to move within reach of the Western Conference’s sixth playoff spot.
“The past couple of weeks they’ve had a little bit of an attitude that, as a coach, you get worried about, they might be too cocky, but I like the attitude that they don’t think they’re going to lose,” Karl said. “Point blank, they do not think they should lose.”
Golden State tried to keep pace with Denver in the early going behind Baron Davis (28 points) and Jason Richardson (26). But the Warriors were sluggish at times after playing the previous day, and couldn’t keep the Nuggets from getting out on the break, allowing an NBA season-high 43 points. It didn’t help that Golden State was 11-of-34 on 3-pointers, leading to its first loss in seven road games.
“Denver is a team that is playing extremely well right now and they are wanting to run,” Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said. “We would have been better with a team in a half-court situation. They try to run you out in the first quarter, and it was just a tough situation for us. We were a step slow and it showed tonight.”
The Nuggets did it without power forward Kenyon Martin for the final 22 minutes. He got one technical in the second quarter for throwing his mouthpiece after a foul call, then was tossed after getting his second for shoving Adonal Foyle inside.
The ejection seemed to spark the Nuggets, particularly Anthony.
He had 17 points by halftime and was more aggressive inside with Martin gone, bulling in for putbacks and dunks during a 15-4 run that put the Nuggets up 89-77.
Anthony, who has been criticized for taking too many long jumpers, finished 12-for-16, with his only shots outside the lane coming on a jumper 12 seconds into the game and on a desperation heave at the end of the third quarter.
“The game was close when K-Mart left and I had to pick it up,” said Anthony, who has led the Nuggets in scoring six straight games. “It was up to me to get the team mentally focused and my chance to step up and put the team on my back.”
Having Miller feed him the ball certainly helped.
The Nuggets point guard was seemingly everywhere in the first quarter, pulling up for jumpers, sneaking in for steals and flipping passes in all directions. He had eight points and nine assists, helping the Nuggets hit 16 of 22 shots for a 36-29 lead.
Miller was just as good in the third quarter, throwing a no-look pass to Eduardo Najera, an alley-oop to Anthony and another to Johnson.
“Andre the first 10 minutes was picking people apart. I thought he could have 25 assists,” Karl said.
Davis picked up where he left off the day before against San Antonio—a 38-point performance—scoring 17 points in the first quarter and 23 by halftime. But he managed just five points in the third quarter as Denver built on its lead, then scored zero in the fourth, finishing 10-of-21.
“The guys were tired today,” Davis said. “We got ourselves back in the ball game, but that’s what happens when you come on the road and play in a hostile environment—you have to play above-average and we just played average today.”
The officiating crew of Jack Nies, Rodney Mott and Mark Ayotte worked in Denver for the second straight game because a blizzard in Colorado on Saturday prevented travel in or out of the state. … Warriors forwards Rodney White and Nikoloz Tskishvili were booed in their first visit to Denver since being traded for Eduardo Najera and Luis Flores. … Denver is 19-1 when shooting 50 percent.