Nuggets snap 2-game skid with rout of RaptorsBy PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011
Lawson scored 17 of his 23 points in the first quarter and Denver’s smothering defense forced 23 turnovers, allowing the Nuggets to snap a two-game skid with a 123-90 rout of the Raptors on Monday night.
The more the diminutive point guard pushed the ball up the floor, the more exhausted everyone became—even his own teammates, who also labored to keep pace.
With Lawson traveling warp speed, the Nuggets raced out to a 29-point lead in the second quarter and never looked back, beating the Raptors for the seventh straight time at home.
“He was a good leader all night,” Denver coach George Karl said.
Had to be, especially with guards Raymond Felton(notes) (left ankle) and Arron Afflalo(notes) (left hamstring) sidelined. But the Nuggets hardly missed a beat as seven different players scored in double figures, including J.R. Smith(notes), who had 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as he spelled Lawson.
“J.R. did a great job at playing point guard, came off the bench and had a really great energy,” said Karl, whose team improved to 10-4 since the blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony(notes) to the New York Knicks last month.
The Raptors arrived in the Mile High City after snapping a franchise-record 14-game road losing streak Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
They just didn’t have the same energy, the same pep, against Denver.
“If you are a step slow in this league, and whether it’s inexperience or fatigue from travel or playing in a back-to-back, you get exposed,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “We did tonight.”
With Lawson leading the charge, the Nuggets relentlessly pushed the ball up the floor, tuckering out the Raptors. Lawson finished with eight assists before getting the rest of the night off early in the fourth quarter, along with the other starters.
Then again, given Denver’s depth, it’s hard to tell the starters from the reserves anymore.
Lawson has provided quite an offensive spark, the team going 14-6 in his starts. He’s also averaging nearly five more points and four more assists than when he enters the contest off the bench.
That’s the byproduct of a little confidence.
“When I was coming off the bench, I felt like if I took one bad shot I was getting pulled quick,” Lawson said. “That’s what normally happened. I was more reserved. Now I’m showing my game more.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 41 points in the fourth quarter, before hitting the brakes.
The rout allowed Gallinari to rest the sore big toe on his left foot. He said the fractured digit remains painful, but doesn’t limit his mobility and that once he steps on the court, “I don’t think about the toe no more.”
These days, Gallinari’s far from the only Nuggets player nicked up.
Felton sprained his ankle at Orlando last Friday and sat out the next night in Miami.
However, as he hobbled out of the arena following morning practice, Felton vowed he would be ready Wednesday night against San Antonio.
The team may take a more cautious approach with Afflalo, especially since he re-aggravated his hamstring in Miami. The same injury recently sidelined Afflalo for three games.
The Nuggets returned home after a grueling four-game road swing that saw them beat New Orleans and Atlanta, before falling to Orlando and Miami.
They currently occupy the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture and are trying to work their way into the fourth slot and host a first-round series.
The Nuggets trail Oklahoma City by four games for the No. 4 position.
“They probably have too much of a gap on us,” said Karl, whose team still plays the Thunder twice in April. “But let’s try to scare them.
“You never know in basketball.”
Notes: The season of Louisville guard Chris Smith came to a close on his big brother’s homecourt after the Cardinals were stunned by Morehead State, 62-61, at Pepsi Center last Thursday. “I’m proud of him,” said Smith, whose eight assists matched a career high. … The Raptors haven’t won in Denver since Dec. 30, 2003. … C Andrea Bargnani(notes) led Toronto in scoring with 20 points.