Sacramento 90 at Denver 104

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Lawson’s 20 points lifts Nuggets past Kings 104-90
Thursday, Mar 31, 2011

DENVER (AP)—Five days of rust couldn’t derail the streaking Denver Nuggets.

Ty Lawson(notes) scored 20 points, J.R. Smith(notes) and Danilo Gallinari(notes) had 17 each and the Nuggets overcame a sluggish start to beat the surging Sacramento Kings 104-90 on Wednesday night.

Al Harrington(notes) scored 15 and Nene had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight and increased their lead over Portland to 2 1/2 games for the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The Trail Blazers lost at New Orleans on Wednesday.

It wasn’t a pretty win Wednesday. Denver enjoyed a five-day break between games, but it seemed to take away the team’s sharpness.

“We got used to playing against each other instead of playing against everybody else,” Smith said. “We were rusty out there.”

The Nuggets are 13-4 since the blockbuster trade with New York in large part because of their ability to share the ball. But, in the first half, they had only seven assists and shot 37 percent from the field.

It was apparent the layoff had an impact.

“Sometimes that can be a good thing if you’re struggling. But we weren’t struggling, so it made us sluggish,” guard Raymond Felton(notes) said of the break. “We can’t complain about that now because we have no days off.”

The Kings were on the second game of a back-to-back, but held the lead for most of the game on the strength of their guards. Marcus Thornton(notes) scored 27 and Tyreke Evans(notes) had 22 off the bench for the Kings, whose four-game win streak was snapped.

Thornton is averaging 22.4 points a game since coming to the Kings in a trade with New Orleans.

“Thornton is legit. He’s changed the way our team is,” Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said.

The game was close for most of the second half before the Nuggets took control in the fourth. With Denver leading 80-79, Gallinari’s dunk, Lawson’s jumper and consecutive 3-pointers from Gallinari and Felton gave Denver a 94-83 lead with 3:09 left.

“We were down the whole game and when we got the lead we were determined to keep the lead,” Felton said.

Denver scored on eight of its last nine possessions.

“They started making plays and we kind of ran out of gas,” Thornton said. “We did play Phoenix last night. They are an up and down team and this team is the same way.”

The Kings led 57-49 early in the third when the Nuggets rallied to get even. A three-point play by Gallinari, a 3-pointer from Wilson Chandler(notes) and a jumper by Lawson tied it. Harrington’s fast-break dunk midway through the period gave Denver a 59-57 lead, its first of the game.

“We’ve got to keep doing what we do well, and usually that means Ty and Raymond pushing us and keep attacking the rim,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Their defense wore out a bit and we got to the rim.”

The Nuggets lead the NBA in scoring at 107.7 points a game, but sputtered to start Wednesday. They were 1 for 6 from the field and the foul line and had just five points more than halfway through the first quarter and trailed by 11.

The Nuggets rallied behind their bench, which gave them a spark and got them within 32-31 early in the second quarter. Sacramento responded with a 15-5 run, capped by Thornton’s fourth 3-pointer of the half, to stretch the lead to 47-36.

The Kings led 51-41 at halftime.

Notes: Denver F Kenyon Martin(notes) left in the first quarter with the flu and did not return. … The Nuggets have won 10 straight at home. … Nuggets G Arron Afflalo(notes) sat out his fourth straight game while nursing a strained left hamstring. He is expected to return to the lineup when the Nuggets play the Kings in Sacramento on Friday. … The Kings have more wins on the road (11) than they do at home (10).

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Sacramento
T. Evans Tyreke Evans
10-16,  22 Pts
3 Rebs, 7 Assists
 Denver
N. Hilario Nene Hilario
5-9,  12 Pts
15 Rebs, 3 Assists

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Wednesday, Mar 30