Nuggets keep winning without stars

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CLEVELAND -- The Denver Nuggets have one of the top records in the NBA. Yet they didn't have one representative in the All-Star Game.
Even though they might not have any stars, they certainly have talent. Loads of it.
The Nuggets handled the Cavaliers 111-103 on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.
Denver (33-18) owns the league's longest winning streak at nine in a row. The Nuggets haven't lost since Jan. 18 against Washington.
Eight Denver players scored in double figures, led by forward Danilo Gallinari's 19 points. He also had nine rebounds and two blocks.
"I think everybody (played well), which doesn't happen very often," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "It was a solid win."
Cavs coach Byron Scott said he wanted to use Saturday's game as a measuring stick. If that's the case, the Cavs still have a ways to go.
"We ran into a team playing very good basketball," Scott said. "We didn't take a step back. We challenged these guys. They have a bunch of great athletes who get up down the floor. I'm not disappointed in our effort. Tonight, they were a better team."
Unlike several past Denver teams, this one defends and puts pressure on the ball.
The Nuggets forced 16 turnovers by the Cavs -- four more than they amassed in the previous two games combined. They also held the Cavs to 44 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded them 46-38.
"They get after you defensively," Scott said. "They switch a lot of things, which messes up your flow. That's the beauty of their team. They have a lot of interchangeable parts. They are a very balanced basketball team. They are pretty athletic at every position.
"They just played a little bit harder than we did. They had that extra umph than we did. They beat us to a lot of loose balls."
The Cavs (16-35) were trying to win four in a row for the first time in three years. However, it didn't happen.
Denver showed off its deep and talented roster. Forward Kenneth Faried had 17 points and seven rebounds, and shooting guard Andre Iguodala contributed 14 points and seven assists.
Faried injured a knee in the first half. He said he'll be fine.
"I'm a warrior," he said. "I'll bounce back. I'll play (Sunday in Boston), no matter what."
Scott is impressed with Faried.
"He plays much bigger (than 6-8)," he said. "He goes after everything. He doesn't take plays off. You don't see guys that athletic who play that hard. He goes after everything. It's a full sprint every time."
Scott said Cavs center Anderson Varejao plays at the same level, "but Faried is so much more athletic than Andy. He jumps out of the gym. He's a handful."
For the Cavs, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving had a game-high 26 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Irving was saddled with foul trouble, picking up his fourth in the third quarter and was forced to the bench.
"I didn't think coach would take me out, but he did," Irving said. "The fourth foul was key. We were a step behind all night. They killed us in the paint (The Cavs were outscored 62-32)."
Irving took a knee to the thigh with four minutes left in the game.
Scott wasn't expecting to take his star out of the game.
"We expected him to be out there for pretty much the entire third quarter," he said. "We had some costly turnovers (while he was on the bench)."
Cavs forward Alonzo Gee scored 20 points, two off his career high. However, 15 of them came in the first six minutes of the game. He has been battling a horrid shooting slump in the last couple of weeks. But he was 8 of 8 from the field, 3 of 3 from behind the arc.
"Players get hot," Faried said of Gee. "He hit every shot. You can't prepare for it. It just happens."
The Cavs' bench had been outstanding since the trade with Memphis on Jan. 22. However, the Nuggets have a lot of pride in their reserves, too. Denver's bench outscored the Cavs 40-36. The Nuggets' subs were led by 7-footer JaVale McGee's 13 points, four rebounds and four blocks.
Scott said his team's bench had been playing at an all-time high.
"They all know their roles and they don't deviate from it," he said. "We have two great leaders in Shaun (Livingston) and Luke (Walton). They've made a very good connection in a very short time."
NOTES: Cavs general manager Chris Grant walked past Nuggets coach George Karl while he was doing his pre-game availability. "Make any trades?" Karl asked. "We're open for business," Grant said, "as long as you have picks." ... Karl said Irving is exceptional. "It's very unique you prepare the majority of your game plan to stop a second-year guy," Karl said. "He hasn't played 80 games yet. In the fourth quarter, we have to be aware he likes that moment." ... Karl isn't worried about the fact he has no superstars. "It's a team game," he said. "At the end of the season, the champion in June will be the team that plays as a team, and plays with the team mentality first. We're going to try to shock the world and win a championship without a superstar or an All-Star." ... The Cavs fell to 3-13 on the second night of a back-to-back set.

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