After an uneven start to a rebuilding season, the Denver Nuggets look to be hitting their stride.
If recent history is any indication, a trip to Houston shouldn't halt that momentum.
Denver, which has won seven in a row against the Rockets, looks to extend that streak - and goes for its fourth win in a row overall - when it faces Houston on Saturday night.
While the Nuggets (4-4) have dominated the matchup of late, both teams have significantly new looks this time around. In fact, perhaps no club in the league was made over from top to bottom as much as Denver.
In the offseason it lost its general manager (Masai Ujiri), head coach (George Karl) and most versatile player (Andre Iguodala) - all while starting the season without one of its top offensive threats (Danilo Galinari) due to a torn ACL suffered last season.
So it wasn't a shock when the Nuggets dropped their first three games of the new season while adapting to all the changes, including a new offensive philosophy put in by coach Brian Shaw, who pumped the brakes a bit on the go-go tempo that was a hallmark of Karl.
Yet ironically enough, it's an offensive resurgence which has carried the team of late. It's averaged 108.0 points over its last five games - setting a season high in points Friday in a 117-113 win over Minnesota - after scoring just 93.3 in its first three.
While it's unlikely that Denver scores 132 like it did in its last game against the Rockets on April 6, it's obvious that chemistry is starting to build in the Mile High City.
"We know that they're going to fall back into the ways that they know," Shaw said of his players before the season. "So I guess it comes down to this: If it works, it's OK. If it doesn't, try it the way we're trying to get you to do it. For the most part, it's a process that's going to take time."
That process seems to be on hold as the team has found success once again when picking up the pace. A season ago, Denver and Houston ranked 1-2 in the NBA in scoring. This season, the Nuggets were 13th coming into Friday's game, and the Rockets third.
Not surprisingly, the person most responsible for Denver's resurgence is its holdover floor general. Outside of LeBron James and Chris Paul, Ty Lawson is the only player in the league to average over 20.0 points, 7.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Lawson left Friday's game with 32 seconds remaining when Corey Brewer inadvertently hit him in the right eye with his hand as he was defending the point guard on a drive into the lane. The Nuggets said Lawson had a cornea abrasion and was probable for Saturday night.
"I should be ready," said Lawson, whose eye was almost swollen shut after the game. "It looked a lot worse than it was."
Lawson will face a new challenge against Houston (6-4) this time around, as the nifty ball-handler who excels at penetration will now have Dwight Howard waiting for him in the middle. The big man is off to a big start with his new team, leading the league in rebounding at 14.9 per game.
Howard, who is also averaging 17.1 points, comes off a quiet Thursday night at New York, where he made just one field goal en route to seven points. But James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin made up for his lack of offense as the three combined for 79 points in Houston's 109-106 win.
"Jeremy stepped up, James played big and that's what we need," said Howard.
Howard's backup, Omer Asik, didn't play against the Knicks after requesting a trade, according to the Houston Chronicle. Asik actually started the first eight games of the season for Kevin McHale, but was moved to the bench two games ago.
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