Nuggets 96, Hornets 88
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
The star-less Denver Nuggets won another game with defense and balanced scoring.
Danilo Gallinari led five players in double figures with 23 points and the Nuggets held the Hornets without a point for more than five minutes in a 19-0 run spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, beating New Orleans 96-88 on Friday night.
The Nuggets scored the last eight points of the third quarter and took the lead for the first time, 64-63, on Andre Miller's shot in the lane to start the fourth. They scored on their first five possessions of the fourth while the Hornets did not get off a shot, committing four consecutive turnovers.
''When we play really good defense, our offense is easy and we usually win games,'' Gallinari said. ''We have to be focused every time.''
Al Harrington had 14 points off the bench for the balanced Nuggets, who won their fourth in a row. Andre Miller and Arron Afflalo added 13 points, with Ty Lawson contributing 12 points and eight assists.
The Nuggets scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, but all coach George Karl wanted to talk about was defense. Exhibit A was backup center Kosta Koufos, who had eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, all in the second half, but also blocked three shots.
''Kosta was active on the ball and turned the tide,'' Karl said. ''He turned the hammer with a couple of them (blocked shots) at a crucial time. It was a tough game, but actually we won fairly easily because of plays like that.''
Reserve Greivis Vasquez had 16 points for the Hornets, who lost their fifth in a row.
New Orleans played without Eric Gordon, who scored 22 points in Wednesday's loss to Philadelphia but will be out two to three weeks after experiencing swelling in the same right knee that forced him to miss four consecutive games before that.
Forward Trevor Ariza sat out his second straight game with a right groin strain.
''We have guys that are in position to make a name for themselves when they have these minutes,'' Hornets coach Monty Williams said. ''Unfortunately, it's a bit much for them right now.''
The first few minutes of the fourth quarter were decisive. After Miller's basket, Kosta Koufos scored inside, Miller drove for a three-point play, Rudy Fernandez had a layup off another Hornets turnover and Gallinari sank two free throws, giving the Nuggets a 73-63 lead. They were ahead by at least five the rest of the way.
The Hornets, who lost a six-point, fourth-quarter lead to Philadelphia on Wednesday, were even worse this time. They did not get a shot off in the quarter until Jarrett Jack clanked one off the rim after more than 2 1/2 minutes.
''The same thing happened like last game,'' forward Carl Landry said. ''We held them to eight points in the third quarter and then the last couple of possessions they went on a run and in the fourth quarter we gave them 34 points. That is something you can't have.''
Gallinari gave Denver its largest lead at 85-73 with his third 3-pointer with 4:27 left, then celebrated on his way back down the court.
''Everybody was feeling good,'' he said. ''Everybody did a good job.''
The Hornets, who entered as the NBA's worst 3-point shooting team (19.5 percent), went 4 of 5 on 3s in the first quarter, taking a 32-24 lead. Marco Belinelli hit two 3s early and fed Vasquez for a third after passing up an open shot.
Landry then drove the baseline for an emphatic reverse dunk with 19 seconds left, giving the Hornets a season high for points in any quarter.
They tied their season low of 15 for any quarter in the second, an ugly stretch for both teams. New Orleans scored six points and Denver had four in the first six minutes. They combined for 13 turnovers, with the Hornets committing eight.
Vasquez's 3 gave the Hornets their largest lead, 43-32, but Gallinari scored five of his 12 first-half points as the Nuggets cut their deficit to 47-41 by halftime.
''We were disappointed and coach Karl was disappointed,'' Gallinari said. ''When we came in the locker room, he said we were playing bad defense and bad offense and we had to wake up. That's what we did.''
The Hornets weren't much better in the third quarter, scoring 16 points. Denver finally came alive and carried its momentum at the end of the quarter into the fourth.
Lawson, who had four turnovers and three assists while missing eight of 10 shots to that point, handed out five assists with only one miscue the rest of the way.
''I was playing like trash at the beginning,'' he said. ''I couldn't hit a basket, so I tried to do other things for the team with assists and diving on loose balls. We made their shots as hard as possible, and it led to easy layups and baskets.''
Notes: Nene retuned for Denver after missing two games with a bruised heel. He scored six points on 2-of-7 shooting. . The Hornets and Nuggets meet again in Denver on Sunday. . New Orleans cleared Xavier Henry on Friday, finalizing a three-way trade with Philadelphia and Memphis that was held up briefly as they checked out Henry's injured right knee. Henry said Wednesday he expected to be ready to play within two weeks. . Vasquez set a career high with three 3-pointers, and the Hornets hit a season-high eight.