Mason scored a season-best 26 points in the New Orleans Hornets’ 102-95 win over the Nuggets, who were without their star forward and their leader Wednesday night.
Nuggets coach George Karl was suspended two games without pay for publicly criticizing officials after the Nuggets’ loss to New Jersey on Monday night.
Assistant coach Scott Brooks, who went 0-2 in place of a suspended Karl to start the season, was without the services of forward Carmelo Anthony, who sprained his left ankle Monday night, and also swingman Greg Buckner, who would have been his best choice to defend Mason had he not sat out with a swollen left knee.
Mason, averaging 7.4 points this season, got the start with Bostjan Nachbar (sprained right knee) sitting out. He had just five points at halftime but scored 12 in the third quarter to stake the Hornets to an 82-77 lead.
The Hornets acquired Mason from Milwaukee in exchange for center Jamaal Magloire just before the opener and he’s been the first forward off the bench for the first month of the season.
Mason and Speedy Claxton (19 points) each had buckets to start the fourth quarter that capped a 9-0 run and put New Orleans ahead 86-77, and the Nuggets never got closer than three after that in losing their second straight game at the Pepsi Center.
Mason said that getting to play 40 minutes allowed him to settle in like he used to with the Bucks.
“I had the opportunity to go and relax and play basketball. The coach gave me quite a few touches, I got going and got into a rhythm,” Mason said. “This is the way I’m used to playing. I had a tough start with the team, struggling, couldn’t get anything to fall. It feels good to get this game under my belt.”
And beating a depleted Denver team took no shine off the win, he said.
“We took advantage of it,” Mason said. “We still thought we could beat them with or without them. The way we played proved it.”
Mason’s biggest play came when he tipped an errant shot to a teammate for an offensive rebound with 21 seconds left and the Hornets clinging to a 96-93 lead. Chris Paul subsequently was fouled and sank both free throws.
After the officiating crew of Ken Mauer, Marc Davis and Zach Zarba huddled, they whistled Watson for a technical foul and P.J. Brown sank the bonus before Claxton hit both of his free throws for a 101-95 lead with 17 seconds remaining.
Brooks said the officials told him there was an excessive elbow or shove from Watson, and after what happened to Karl, Brooks wasn’t about to criticize them in his postgame interview.
“We’ve got the best officials in the world. I mean, I’ve coached in the minor leagues and it’s rough,” Brooks said. “The officials, I thought they did a great job tonight.”
As did Mason.
“He hit big shot after big shot,” Brooks said. “We sent two guys at him. We were close. We contested his shots. When good players have it going, it’s hard to stop.”
The Nuggets fell to 0-3 without Karl, having lost both of the games Brooks coached after Karl was suspended at the start of the season for improper contact with a prospect in Milwaukee in May.
“If George was out there, we would have put out the same effort,” Camby said. “And we wanted to win so bad for Scotty. It’s an unfortunate situation not having your coach. We wish we had him, we’re behind him, and he’ll be back on Saturday.”
Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said that with all his team’s injuries, “we need all the help we can get. And George is a very, very good coach and obviously we need him on the bench.”
They need Anthony back on the court, too.
“Carmelo’s awesome,” Brooks said. “The guy can do so many things for us offensively. He makes the job as the coach a lot easier. But I don’t want to use that as an excuse why we didn’t win.”
Karl will also miss the team’s trip to Phoenix on Friday night. … Nuggets rookie F Linas Kleiza got his first career start and scored seven points.