HOUSTON - The Denver Nuggets proved more proficient in aspects the Houston Rockets frequently utilize to subdue opponents, extending their series win streak to five games with a 105-95 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
The Nuggets (26-18) dominated the Rockets (22-22) in both transition baskets and points in the paint during the decisive third quarter, expanding their two-point halftime lead to an 82-66 cushion heading into the fourth. The Nuggets outscored the Rockets 11-0 in fast-break points and tallied 20 of their 36 points in the third quarter in the paint.
"The Rockets are high scoring and they love transition but they don't like guarding," Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. "Coach (George Karl) made a big point about that, so whenever they scored or even when we got the rebound I made a point in the third quarter to push it.
"I was trying to get easy points. They didn't really run back too much, and that's what we did."
Houston worked itself into a corner by fouling early and often following the halftime intermission, picking up its fifth foul by the 7:25 mark of the third. Gradually, the Nuggets generated momentum at the free-throw line.
Denver didn't waste that opportunity to pounce, flipping a three-point deficit into a 72-59 lead with a 20-4 blitz. Wilson Chandler opened the run with a game-tying 3-pointer at the 7:45 mark of the third before Danilo Gallinari sandwiched seven points around a pair of emphatic JaVale McGee dunks. Suddenly a rout was on and continued unabated.
"We started turning the ball over," said Rockets guard James Harden, who had 23 points and seven assists.
The Nuggets' bench performed well, with Chandler (20 points) and McGee (14 points) seemingly scoring at will. Meanwhile, Gallinari had 18 points while the Nuggets' backcourt of Lawson and Andre Iguodala combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists and five steals.
"The tempo of the game got faster and faster and he (Chandler) was very good," Karl said. "Ty was good, and then Andre and Corey (Brewer) and then JaVale came in, and with that crew they took the game to a 15-, 16-point lead. It's seldom you ever have an easy win on the road, but we cruised into an easy win."
Before their third-quarter collapse, the Rockets maintained contact despite their turnover woes. They surrendered 15 points off 14 turnovers in the first half yet trailed just 46-44 at the break. Their offense found a rhythm down the stretch of the second quarter, with a 12-0 run keyed by three-point plays from Harden and Jeremy Lin lifting Houston to a 44-40 lead with 1:23 remaining before halftime.
However, the Rockets surrendered 28 points off 23 turnovers for the game, the seventh time in the last 10 games they've allowed at least 20. After winning five consecutive games to reach a season-high seven games over .500, the Rockets have dropped eight of their last nine games.
"I think right now we're low on confidence, there's no question," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "You can see it with our guys. We're going to have to pump them up and get them believing again."
NOTES: Lost in the misery of the Rockets' recently concluded seven-game losing streak was the fact that those setbacks coincided with their most difficult stretch of schedule this season. Six losses came on the road with the Rockets in the midst of two spans of four games in five days. "When you looked at our schedule and I looked at the amount of games we had and the amount of practice that we had and our roster, I was like, 'Ooh, this is going to be a really challenging time,'" McHale said. "I don't think you had to be a rocket scientist to figure out that one." ... Karl can sympathize with the Rockets' road woes. Denver opened the season with 22 of their first 32 games away from Pepsi Center. "The road is hard. The road is a difficult place to win if you're not playing well," Karl said. "You can play well and still lose on the road."