Nuggets-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

Ty Lawson thinks the Denver Nuggets can easily sweep their home-and-home set with the Houston Rockets. Coach George Karl just wants his team to show maturity.

The Nuggets can move two games ahead of the Rockets in the Western Conference standings when these teams conclude their home-and-home Monday night in Houston.

Denver (33-27) won 101-86 at home over Houston on Sunday, moving one game ahead of the Rockets for the West's seventh seed. The eighth-place Rockets (32-28) are one game in front of Phoenix for the conference's last postseason spot.

Lawson and Arron Afflalo each scored 20 points and helped push the pace along with Andre Miller (11 assists) to give Denver a 29-10 advantage in fast-break points. Lawson figures it won't be hard to duplicate that performance.

"I don't think it's that tough,'' he said. "And if we just stay focused and stay in the game plan, it will be easy for us.''

Karl offered a more measured assessment with his club in position to clinch the tiebreaker by beating the Rockets for the third time in four tries. Denver has lost three straight on the road.

"They're going to play with an anger and an urgency that their season is in trouble if they lose (Monday),'' Karl said. "For us, it's our chance to continue to figure out how to play big-time basketball games and be mature about it and we'll be able to probably adjust some things ourselves.''

The second half proved decisive Sunday as Denver rallied from a six-point deficit at the break. The Nuggets shot 54 percent after halftime, had a 17-3 edge in fast-break points and limited the Rockets to 32 percent from the field.

"They 'fastbroke' on us off our missed shots. Long rebounds, turnovers and they ran out in that third quarter,'' Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "It's the same kind of bugaboo, and you just have to get over it.''

Losers of three straight overall, the Rockets are also seeking to avoid losing four in a row at home for the first time since Jan. 5-14, 2011.

"We've got to go out and play better (Monday) night,'' McHale said. "They had 26 points off our turnovers, but it's more than that. When the clock ran down, they turned their defense up a little bit."

Chase Budinger and Luis Scola each scored 19 points to lead the Rockets, who feel the solution to solving the Nuggets isn't complex.

"We just need to get back,'' Budinger said. "This was a good learning lesson for us just because they got so many fastbreak points on us. Coming into (Monday), we're going to play them again, just knowing how fast they like to play how quick they get the ball up, our ones, twos and threes have to get back and stop their transition because that's where they really killed us (Sunday).''

Corey Brewer scored 14 points off the bench Sunday for Denver. He had 15 points in the Nuggets' 117-105 win in Houston on March 2.

"It's kind of my job on this team - energy. Basically when I come in games, it's pick up the pace and start picking up the ball,'' Brewer said.

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