The Nuggets once again had issues closing out a sub-.500 team at home. Danilo Gallinari, 19 points, and Andre Iguodala, 15 points, both paced the Nuggets scoring, but were a bit overshadowed by Anthony Randolph and Julyan Stone. While Randolph and Stone didn't put up big numbers, they did leave their imprint on the game during key stretches in the second half.
Once again, Ty Lawson (heel) and Wilson Chandler (shoulder) did not play. It was Andre Miller running the point, but Julyan Stone finally saw some action. In the first quarter, Stone played a five minute stretch, but only recorded one rebound. During the 76ers game Scott Hastings mentioned that Stone was feeling about 80-percent like himself (recovering from the same hip surgery as Chandler) and he was moving pretty well.
Stone did have a hockey assist to Iguodala and Iggy to Gallo for a wide-open three. On the next possession, Iggy stole a pass and threw it ahead to Gallo -- who dropped it off to Stone, but Tyreke Evans was called for fouling Gallo. On the bench, Jordan Hamilton was visibly bummed out that Stone didn't get the easy dunk. Anthony Randolph also got a little run as the backup power forward once again (he scored 2 points in the first).
Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee each paced the team in the first with 6 points apiece. Gallo was moving well and had a couple nice dunks in the first - good to see him get some lift and some easy buckets. DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with 7 points and was out and running the floor early (and awarded with a nice leak out dunk). Denver took an easy 27-17 lead.
In the second quarter, George Karl tinkered with some early lineups. He settled into Miller, Corey Brewer, Gallo, Kenneth Faried, and Randolph. That unit didn't start off with great play and things started to grind down with turnovers and fouls -- some ugly basketball. Kosta Koufos came back in for Randolph to make the unit one that has played together more-so. A 31-19 lead shrank to 31-27 for Denver after a 8-0 run by the Kings. Back-to-back fastbreak dunks by Kenneth Faried (off some fancy assists) helped pick the energy back up (35-27 Denver).
Iguodala, Gallo and the Nuggets started to get loose towards the end of the half (Iggy with two behind the back passes and a between the legs dish to Miller for a layup and Gallo with two nice dishes to McGee) and finished the quarter on a 15-13 scoring binge to maintain their ten-point lead: 50-40.
The third quarter was not a pretty one. Karl used his starters until the 4:27 mark before turning to Brewer and McGee with the score 62-57 Denver. Shortly after Karl turned to his bench, he also brought Randolph back into the game for Faried (63-59 Denver). Faried left right after swatting an Isaiah Thomas layup attempt (Thomas was a pest all night).
The Kings came all the way back and snagged a 64-63 lead with 2:15 left in the third off John Salmon's third three pointer of the night (3-7 from deep to that point for Salmons). The quarter would end 71-70 in favor of the Kings and they outscored the Nuggets 31-20 in the quarter. (Unlike the Sixers game, Karl would go back to a backup point guard as Stone played in the second half for Miller - Stone was 3-4 on free throws in the final minute of the third.)
To start the fourth, Karl used Stone, Brewer, Iggy, Faried, and Randolph. That unit went from down 71-70 to evening it out at 74-74 before Gallo returned for Iguodala (quick sub). This Gallo unit went from the 74-74 tie to 84-78 lead when Karl took Stone out for Miller with 7:15 left in the game.
The Kings stayed in the game up until the final 26.3 seconds, but they couldn't get any closer than two points. A Miller layup and free throw (And-1) would all but seal the game for Denver. Not an impressive win, considering the Nuggets had scored 120+ three times against the Kings, but a win nonetheless.
The Nuggets have now won 15 in a row and 17 in a row at the Pepsi Center.
Opposition's take: Sactown Royalty
-I liked watching Stone work tonight - he likes to use the pick-and-roll and is always looking to set guys up. As he develops, I hope he gets a little more selfish too - kid can get to the rim easy. Stone played 14 minutes and put up 5 points, 1 assist, and 1 rebound.
-Randolph stole some minutes from McGee tonight - in the fourth quarter. He's looking a lot more comfortable in his minutes and has seemed to learn that if he plays with energy and doesn't try to create on his own on offense that he can be effective -- that's a nice development. Randolph played 15 minutes and put up 8 points (4-8 shooting) and 6 rebounds (3 offensive).
-McGee played just 13 minutes despite scoring 11 points on 5-8 shooting. Was it just Karl feeling Randolph's energy a bit more tonight? McGee played pretty well and seemed to bother Cousins on the defensive end - Cousins scored 24 points on the night and 7 points in the fourth without McGee in the game.
-Faried's energy tonight was needed. He had 17 points and 9 rebounds (1 offensive) and got out on the run on more than a few occasions. His run-out dunk late was huge and he gave the team a nice spark tonight - along with Stone and Randolph.
-After scoring 29 points against the Sixers, Brewer shot just 1-8 tonight for 2 points and he had 4 turnovers. Not a good game from Brewer, but he did enough against Philly ... AMIRIGHT!?!
-The Nuggets miss Ty Lawson, a lot. Miller is a nice backup for this team, but like I said in the Philly recap - Lawson is the engine this team needs. Iguodala finished with more assists (8) than Miller (5) and Miller shot just 4-12 from the field in 33 minutes.
-I was watching this game thinking about what the motivation is for the Kings players. The tough grind of an NBA season, game-after-game wearing your body down ... rough stuff. It's hard to tell what the plan is in Sacramento and what the future of this Kings roster is going to be.
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