Danilo Gallinari made it perfectly clear why the Denver Nuggets signed him to a hefty contract extension.
The 23-year-old Italian star scored 21 of his 23 points in the first half and the Nuggets routed the Sacramento Kings 122-93 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory and fifth in a row on the road.
The Nuggets, who have the second-best record in the Western Conference at 13-5, signed Gallinari to a four-year, $42 million contract extension Wednesday morning.
”The contract means a lot. It means this team, this franchise really believes in me,” said Gallinari, who was coming off a career-high 37 points Saturday in a victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. ”I feel great about this team. It was easy for me to say yes to this contract.”
Constantly penetrating inside the Kings’ porous defense, it also looked easy the way the Nuggets scored throughout the lopsided game. Denver produced an NBA-high 92 points in the paints, the most since the NBA began keeping track of this statistic. Only four of Denver’s 50 baskets were outside that area.
The San Antonio Spurs had the previous high with 90 points in the paint in a win over the Golden State on March 19, 2010. The Kings also allowed the previous points-in-the-paint high this season, giving up 72 in a Jan. 3 loss to Memphis.
”We were attacking the basket and not settling for jumpers,” Al Harrington said. ”We knew the Kings were struggling defensively and we wanted to attack them.”
The Nuggets had seven players in double figures and finished with 29 assists. They shot 55 percent and outrebounded the Kings 48-35.
”We didn’t have any resistance in the paint,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. ”We knew the fast break was going to be a tough issue anyway because of the way Denver gets out and pushes the ball. But we just got broken down too many times at the point of attack.”
Denver led by 23 points at the half and scored the first eight points of the third quarter. They have won five consecutive road wins for the first time since joining the NBA in 1976-77.
”I like doing things that have never been done before,” Denver coach George Karl said. ”Right now we have good energy, good focus, and guys are playing together.”
Nene had 16 points for Denver, 7-3 on the road. Andre Miller added 15 points and 10 assists, Corey Brewer also had 15 points, Ty Lawson 11, and Al Harrington 10.
The only negative for Denver was Lawson leaving the game for good in the second quarter after spraining his left ankle on defense against Isaiah Thomas. Lawson expects to miss Friday’s home game against Toronto, but believes he will return Sunday. The Nuggets played without starting guard Arron Afflalo and reserver Rudy Fernandez, who are both nursing injuries.
Rookie Jimmer Fredette made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Kings, who never got the lead under 20 points in the second half. DeMarcus Cousins had 17 points and 15 rebounds, Isaiah Thomas scored 16 points, and Tyreke Evans had 12 and seven assists.
”We hadn’t gotten beat like that at home this year, and that’s something we want to do – protect our home court,” said Fredette, who was one point shy of his career high of 20 two games ago against Memphis. ”We have to have a short memory and get on to the next game, move forward.”
With Carmelo Anthony now playing with the New York Knicks, the Nuggets envision multi-talented Gallinari becoming the face of the franchise. And Gallinari responded by playing like an All-Star in the opening half.
He was 7 of 10 from the field, hit all seven free throws, and blocked two shots in 21 minutes. Gallinari finished with three rebounds and three blocks.
”He didn’t force anything, and for about a 15-minute stretch in the first half Danilo was the best player on the court,” Karl said. ”Our passing was spectacular tonight. We were getting a lot off easy baskets underneath their defense.”
Denver shot nearly 60 percent and had its running game on display in assuming a 66-43 halftime lead. The Nuggets scored off the break and got numerous easy opportunities inside, their 46 points in the paint more than the Kings had overall.
Ahead by six points after one quarter, the Nuggets outscored Sacramento 34-17 in the second. Denver bothered the youthful Kings at the defensive end and capitalized at the other end. Gallinari scored 14 points and Harrington had eight in the quarter.
Despite the big halftime lead, the Nuggets experienced no letdown in the third quarter. The lead reached in the third when Denver continued its torrid shooting and outscored sluggish Sacramento 28-22.
”The ball was moving tonight and the ball was going in the net,” said Lawson, who played just 15 minutes. ”Everyone was touching the ball, everyone was sharing, and everyone was scoring. It was a fun game for us.”
The day didn’t start out fun for the Kings, who announced that leading scorer Marcus Thornton is expected to miss one or two weeks with a deep bruise in his left thigh. Thornton, who is averaging 16.4 points, was replaced in the starting lineup by Fredette.
The struggling Kings, who are the NBA’s youngest team, were coming off a pair of road losses, including a humbling 128-95 loss on Saturday to Memphis. The Kings are 4-8 under Keith Smart, who replaced fired Paul Westphal seven games into the season.
NOTES: The Nuggets also signed backup center Kosta Koufos to a three-year, $9 million contract extension. Kings forward Chuck Hayes, who has missed 11 straight games with a dislocated left shoulder, might return to the active roster Saturday against Utah. … Mild-mannered and sitting on the bench for much of the first half, Karl still managed to pick up a technical foul late in the second quarter with his team ahead by 21 points.