The Denver Nuggets (28-15) returned to Pepsi Center less than 24 hours after a heartbreaking defeat in Houston to play the lowly Sacramento Kings (10-32) Tuesday evening. George Karl’s squad was in desperate need of a win after consecutive losses to the Magic and Rockets, but they came out as flat as a punctured basketball in the first quarter. The Kings capitalized on the Nuggets’ uninspired defense to race out to a 31-23 lead by the end of the frame, capped by a rare four-point play in the final second by Francisco Garcia.
The royal Californians extended their lead to 34-24 with 9:55 to play in the second quarter on a long jump shot by Bobby Jackson. A critical adjustment in offensive and defensive mentality and intensity triggered a 33-13 run to finish the half for Denver. They continually drove the ball into the post at will during the run, getting easy layups and 18 free throw attempts. By the time the teams broke for halftime, Denver had posted one of their best quarters of the season, outpacing Sacramento 34-16.
The Melo-less Nuggets combined pesky defense and its driving offense through the third quarter as they extended their lead to 19. Five Nuggets finished in double figures as they built a laughable 30-point lead with less than 90 seconds to play. Bobby Jackson flushed two inconsequential three-pointers to make the final score 118-99.
Linas Kleiza led the Nuggets with 27 points and Chauncey Billups chimed in with 22. Guard Kevin Martin checked in with 25 for the Kings, and the impressive rookie forward Jason Thomspon added 18.
Key to the Game: The game really turned in the second quarter when every Nugget seemed to discover the soft interior defense of the Kings. Sacramento couldn't seem to figure out any way to stop the Nuggets, and Denver scored at will with layups and free throws. The Nuggets' monumental 46-22 advantage over the Kings in free throw attempts was a direct effect of their aggressive offensive attack. Sacramento's inability to defend the lane doomed any chance of pulling off the upset.
Notes: Nine of the ten Nuggets who played scored. The one who didn’t, Sonny Weems, was 0-for-5…Guard Anthony Carter became the first Nuggets reserve guard to reach 10 assists since Allen Iverson in his first game in Denver…Linas Kleiza set a season-high in points with 27 on 11-of-17 shooting. He has averaged 19.3 points per game in his past four games on 32-of-48 shooting….Denver scored over 50 points in the paint against Sacramento, who gives up the second most points per game in the NBA. Denver also scored 118 points against the Kings December 6...Denver is still undefeated against teams under .500 with Chauncey Billups....The Nuggets are 14-2 when holding their opponents under 100 points....Guard Dahntay Jones separated his shoulder in pre-game warmups. He is listed as day-to-day and was replaced in the starting lineup by forward Renaldo Balkman...With the win, the Nuggets division lead extended to 2.
Star of the Game: Despite being outscored by Kleiza and Billups, JR Smith filled up the stat sheet with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 6 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Smith finished with an astounding +/- of +32. He did not make a three point shot.