Cavaliers-Nuggets Preview

The Associated Press

Denver Nuggets coach George Karl didn't think his team was aggressive enough in the last game, but his players keep producing in the paint and working the boards.

To prevent that from happening to them, the Cleveland Cavaliers are likely going to need their young big men to step up with center Anderson Varejao still sidelined.

Denver will try to match a season high with a fourth straight victory Friday night when the Cavs open a five-game western swing.

Despite the Nuggets (21-16) rallying from nine down in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 108-105 victory over Orlando, Karl didn't hide his displeasure about his team being called for an NBA season-low seven fouls.

"I think seven is a little insulting, embarrassing to me," said Karl, whose squad averages 20.3 fouls. "Because I think our team should be more aggressive than that. You should have at least twice that many fouls to find out what you can get away with."

The Nuggets, though, have been averaging plenty of points in the paint (60.7), rebounds (46.7) and second-chance points (19.3) during their winning streak. Kenneth Faried has a team-high 35 boards during that stretch after grabbing 19 on Wednesday. He also scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter when Denver outscored the Magic 38-28.

"We were all locked in and had to do what we had to do," Faried said after the Nuggets improved to 12-2 at home. "We were able to escape with a win."

It could be tough for the Cavaliers (9-28) to leave Denver with a win - and snap a five-game skid at Western Conference opponents - as they will be without Varejao, the NBA leader with 14.4 rebounds per game, for at least another six to eight weeks due to a right knee injury.

"Andy's production, his effort, his whole morale around the team will be missed," leading scorer Kyrie Irving said after finishing with 33 points in Wednesday's 99-83 win over Atlanta, Cleveland's most lopsided victory of the season. "We all have to step up."

Second-year forward Tristan Thompson has done just, averaging 13.1 points and 12.5 rebounds in 11 games since Varejao last played.

Tyler Zeller will continue to start in Varejao's place, and coach Byron Scott can only hope the rookie center can keep producing like he did against the Hawks as he scored 11 to go with a season-best 12 boards.

Thompson finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds.

"I don't know if we need (both to get double-doubles) every single night, but somewhere near there would be nice," Scott said.

So would more hot shooting nights from Irving, who has scored 30 or more in three of four games after hitting a season-best 73.3 percent (11 of 15) from the field Wednesday.

In the lone meeting between these teams last season, Irving scored 10 of his 18 points in the final 2:36 of a 100-99 road win March 7 that ended the Cavs' four-game skid in this series.

Point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller could help Denver match its best run since Nov. 19-25 as they've combined for 70 points and 32 assists in the last two games.

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