The surging Denver Nuggets haven’t gotten to the point of judging the quality of their wins. Coach George Karl knows a clunker when he sees one, though.
”It was an ugly, sloppy win,” Karl said after watching the tired Nuggets’ landmark 96-86 victory over the equally short-handed San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.
”But we’ll take it,” Karl said.
Wilson Chandler scored 29 points and Corey Brewer had 28 as the Nuggets overcame a slow start to post their franchise-record 21st straight home win while also tying their franchise record of 54 wins in an NBA season.
They have four games left, including two at home, where they improved to a league-best 36-3, tying yet another franchise mark that was set in 1976-77.
Andre Iguodala recorded his first triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets, who haven’t lost at home since Jan. 18 against Washington, and JaVale McGee provided stellar defense on Tim Duncan (17 points).
”The team has a resilient attitude toward whatever has to happen in a game to win it,” Karl said. ”And tonight’s game was very strange in a lot of ways. But our guys just kept fighting and things finally came our way offensively and we sustained our defensive effort for most of the game.
”They missed a lot of open 3s I thought early in the game. And we got the hot players. Wilson and Corey were the hot players on the court and they kind of never found that guy for them.”
The Nuggets broke the old mark of 20 straight home wins set by Doug Moe’s 1984-85 team. And they did it by overcoming a 14-0 deficit. Denver took a 38-37 lead into the locker room at halftime and atoned for its slow start by scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter.
That gave the Nuggets an 82-63 lead.
”They turned up their defensive intensity and turned it into some points,” Duncan said. ”We got back on our heels a little bit. Still stayed in the game. Did a great job of sticking around. We just couldn’t make shots consistently and their pressure got to us.”
Even with Duncan sitting out the fourth quarter, the Spurs fought back, pulling to 89-82 on Gary Neal’s 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining. DeJuan Blair added 17 points and his three-point play with 1:33 left made it 91-86, but the Spurs didn’t score again.
”We started out pretty well but then they made their run and at the end we couldn’t hold it off,” said Spurs guard Cory Joseph.
Point guards Ty Lawson and Tony Parker sat out the showdown, Parker with a sore back and Lawson with an ailing right heel, and their absences were felt when both teams shot just 36 percent in an ugly first half.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he didn’t want to risk playing Parker in light of his team’s injury epidemic. Popovich revealed that Boris Diaw will miss two to three weeks with a back injury, and Manu Ginobili has missed several games with a strained right hamstring. Parker also has been dealing with a balky left ankle.
With Parker out, the Spurs struggled from long range, missing 17 of 21 3-pointers.
Lawson has missed eight of Denver’s last nine games and five straight. He has a torn right plantar fascia and returned to practice Tuesday. Karl, who lost starting forward Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL last week, said he needs to see more progress from Lawson before he puts him back in the lineup.
”If it was a playoff game, he would have played,” Karl said.
Kenneth Faried, the victim of Patty Mill’s flagrant foul in the first half, walked gingerly from the court after the game with a dazed look, but Karl said he was fine.
”The one I kind of got a little nervous on was I thought Corey kind of tweaked his knee on that last play with about a minute to go. It seemed like his knee went the wrong way,” Karl said. ”I wasn’t worried about Kenneth. Kenneth’s pretty tough. I think he likes getting hit like that.”
Neither Faried nor Brewer said anything afterward about being hurt. Faried said he wouldn’t miss any games.
Denver took a 69-63 lead into the fourth quarter. By the time Blair scored San Antonio’s next basket with 7:51 left, the Nuggets had gone on a 37-10 tear.
The Nuggets have two home games remaining, against Portland on Sunday and Phoenix on Wednesday night, to try to break the team record for home victories since joining the NBA 37 years ago. Denver went 36-5 at home under coach Larry Brown in 1976-77.
The Spurs scored the game’s first 14 points, much to the chagrin of the Pepsi Center crowd, which was implored to stand until the Nuggets scored their first points. They finally sat when Chandler sank a running jump shot at the 6:45 mark.
The Nuggets shot several airballs in the first quarter, when they were just 5 for 23 from the floor and missed their only free throw.
”Our bench,” Chandler said when asked what got them back into the game.
”We needed energy,” said Brewer, who took a career-high 25 shots. ”They came out firing on all cylinders. So, I just tried to come in and push the pace, get us running and it worked out for us.”
The Spurs weren’t immune from the shooting foibles, missing 20 of 24 during one stretch as the Nuggets clawed their way back into the game and finally took a 38-37 lead into the locker room. That marked the Spurs’ lowest-scoring half of the season and only Chandler’s bucket in the final minute of the second quarter prevented the Nuggets from tying their low of 36 points for a half this season.
”I thought the whole game had a lot of weirdness to it,” Karl said. ”… I don’t know if it was the way the game was refereed, two good offenses struggling to score, I’m sure they missed their playmakers; we missed our playmakers.”
Notes: Karl said his players complained about the two hard practices leading to the game and he thought that was why they walked the ball upcourt more than he’d like. So, he’s giving them Thursday off yet hoping Lawson comes in for some work. … The Nuggets went 54-28 in both 1987-88 and 2008-09. … The Spurs’ previous worst half was a 38-point effort at Minnesota on March 12. The Nuggets scored 36 points in each half against Memphis on Dec. 29.