Arron Augustin Afflalo put up a season-high 19 points, including 6 in overtime off two huge three-pointers and stepped into the role of difference maker tonight against the Hornets. The Nuggets are now riding a season-high six game winning streak after defeating NOLA 116-110.
Is there a magic formula to these games like Andrew mentioned in his Nuggets/Clippers recap? In the first half tonight against the Hornets I'd have to say yes. With NOLA coming into town after playing last night in Minnesota the key to beating them is to either blow the doors off them by jumping on them early ... or let them burn themselves out in the first half, keep it close and turn it on in the second half and don't let it become a fourth quarter game.
Well, the Hornets came out with a lot of energy and tried to put as much distance between themselves and the Nuggets as possible. It's sort of like a long distance race ... the leader sometimes will try to out run the pack, but more often than not they tire and their lead starts to disappear. With the Hornets up 47-37 in the second quarter the Nuggets started to close the gap. Denver closed the first half with a 16-6 run, as NOLA's energy dwindled, and found themselves down just one 54-53.
In the third quarter the Nuggets started to find their groove and down 69-63 they started to make their second half run. After tying the game at 69-69 Denver grabbed their first lead since holding a brief 32-30 lead and Kenyon Martin's put back dunk over Emeka Okafor on a Billup missed layup gave Denver a 75-72 lead and woke up the Pepsi Center crowd. However, Denver was not able to distance themselves from the Hornets, up just one point (79-78) heading into the final period.
Magic Johnson famously calls the fourth quarter "winning time" and it would be up to either Melo, Billups or Chris Paul to take over the final period and bring home the win for their respective teams. Funny part, to start the fourth quarter the first two minutes belonged to Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen. The Nuggets bench provided a bit of breathing room stretching the lead to eight of 88-80. The Hornets grabbed a quick timeout at around the 10 minute mark as momentum was squarely on the Nuggets' side.
When you let a team on a back-to-back hang around they will put forth the effort to win the game late. The Hornets did just that. With the Nuggets down 95-93 Nene stepped to the foul line and sank to monsterous shots. If Nene missed both or just converts one the Nuggets are in trouble. He hit both and Billups sank a huge three to follow. Denver looked to take control, but Billups was whistled for an offensive knee to the chest of Okafor (I guess it didn't matter that Oak was inside the semi-circle as the offensive blocking knee is an automatic foul). Things stayed tight down the wire and Melo found the ball in his hands with just eight ticks left on the clock.
Melo took the ball into the teeth of the defense where Okafor was waiting for him and blocked Melo's running attempt, the ball fell right back to Melo and he put up a bunny in the lane that didn't find its home. Melo ended regulation just 8-26 from the field and threw his headband off in disgust as regulation ended 101-101.
The Nuggets needed somebody to get hot in the extra period and that man was Arron Augustine Afflalo. Triple-A sank two huge three-pointers in the extra period and put the nails in the Hornets coffins. Not to be overlooked was Melo taking a jumper on Devin Brown and coming down and spraining his left ankle. The Nuggets took a timeout and Melo shook off the injury to sink both free throws and finally the Hornets were defeated.
The Nuggets didn't follow the same formula against the Hornets as they did against the Clippers. The Nuggets let NOLA hang around and it almost cost them the game. Denver was able to pull out the win and proved that in the NBA, even if you don't follow the directions you can get the win, but it'll sap some additional energy. At least the Pepsi Center crowd got to see an exciting game.
Denver is now 20-3 at home and got some revenge for their loss in New Orleans earlier in the season.
-The Nuggets once again could not find their groove from distance against the Hornets. Denver finished the game just 10-27 from long range, but Billups and Afflalo did hit some key threes late.
-Lawson with a little bit of a boneheaded play going for a two handed dunk up 88-80 ...
-Denver dominated the offensive glass grabbing 20 offensive boards and dominated the glass overall outrebounding the Bugs 61-37. Bird, Melo, K-Mart and Nene all had double digit boards ... that never happens!
-Chris Paul, like last season in the playoffs, seemed a bit frustrated with the way Denver was defending him, but he still helped carry the Hornets (who were without power forward and jump shooting machine David West.)
-J.R. Smith's slump is now starting to affect his playing time as he only played 12 minutes last night. I'm hoping he was sick or got hurt or something ... but I have a feeling George Karl is just seeing more of what he likes out of Afflalo and Lawson right now than he is from Smith.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos.