DENVER (AP)—George Karl may let the Nuggets fly down the court in the first half and then order them to apply the brakes in the second.
The Denver coach doesn’t know what else to do.
He’s frustrated with his team’s play in third quarters this season. After jumping out to a big lead Tuesday night, the Nuggets had to hold on for a 107-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
“We ran great in the first half, we ran hard and it was some of the best sprinting we have seen this season,” Karl said. “The second half, I don’t know. We run in the first half (and) run out of gas.”
Karl wanted to pull all five starters after an 18-point lead began to evaporate. He resisted the temptation even as the Nuggets were outscored 34-23 in the third period.
“Our starts in the third quarter are awful,” Karl said. “I wouldn’t even put that in a high school clinic. We come out non-focused, not running. I hope I don’t do that (bench the starters), because that could be really ugly. But that is how bad I think our third quarters have been.”
The first half, though, was what Karl wants to see. Allen Iverson, who finished with 31 points and 10 assists, was racing down the court, and his teammates were keeping up.
“A lot of times Coach talks about me beating guys down the court, and when I had the ball tonight, that wasn’t the case,” Iverson said. “They were beating me down the court, and I was just finding guys. They did a great job of finishing.”
Anthony was at a loss to explain the Nuggets’ third-quarter woes.
“If we knew as a team, we wouldn’t start off third quarters like that,” Anthony said. “We could’ve stepped up our defense a little more, but we won the game. It was an ugly game.”
Portland coach Nate McMillan would agree. He took comfort in the fact the Blazers pulled within 99-93 with 1:44 remaining.
“Being right there doesn’t do it,” said McMillan, whose team has dropped 14 of the last 15 games in Denver. “We didn’t play a good game.”
LaMarcus Aldridge kept the Blazers in the game, finishing with 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Zach Randolph added 26 points and Brandon Roy had 16. Jarrett Jack finished with 13 points and nine assists.
“Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” said Roy, whose team had 13 of its 18 turnovers in the first half. “You can’t beat a team playing like that. We were terrible.”
The Nuggets held on to their late lead this time. When Portland played in Denver on Feb. 2, the Blazers came back from a seven-point deficit in the final 1:35 before losing 114-107 in overtime. Former Blazer Steve Blake took over in overtime, scoring eight of the Nuggets’ 17 points.
Blake also had a big basket on Tuesday night. After Aldridge hit a shot to trim Denver’s lead to six, Blake nailed a jumper with 1:24 remaining to put away the game.
“You are disappointed because you have a game like that under control and you don’t put them away, which is what good teams do,” Iverson said. “But the most important thing is just to get the win. We have to close out a lot better. We know that.”
J.R. Smith returned to the court after missing eight of the last nine games due to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Smith played almost 15 minutes and hit just one 3-pointer. Denver came into the game shooting just 32.7 percent from 3-point range, which is last in the NBA. Smith was 1-for-3 against Portland.
When asked about the Nuggets’ defensive performance in the second half, Karl beat his head against the microphone.
“Twenty-four great minutes, and then 24 minutes of frustration,” Karl said with a grin. “I’d like to have a 48-minute game where we play well all four quarters with only small moments of lull. We are getting there and getting better.”
Nuggets assistant coach Mike Dunlap took his name out of consideration for the University of Colorado basketball position Tuesday. He also recently told a search firm that he didn’t have an interest in the openings at the University of Minnesota or University of Denver. … Reserve G/F Fred Jones missed the game with a swollen right hand. He collided with G Sergio Rodriguez in practice Monday. … Iverson’s 10 assists gave him 4,503 for his career. … Anthony picked up a technical in the fourth quarter for arguing a call.