Kosta Koufos enjoys career night
The longest active NBA winning streak by a team not from Miami reached nine games when the Denver Nuggets beat the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.
Kosta Koufos scored a career high 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting, mostly from point-blank range, Corey Brewer added 20 and Ty Lawson 19 in the Nuggets’ 108-93 victory.
Denver’s nine in a row is just half of Miami’s 18 straight, but it’s good enough to have the Nuggets putting pressure on the top teams in the Western Conference. The Nuggets trail the Los Angeles Clippers by just two games for the third-best record in the West.
As usual, the Nuggets did it with an array of layups and soaring dunks.
”Once we get running and getting into our groove, we’re tough to beat,” Brewer said. ”It’s all about playing defense. Once we get stops and make them miss, we can run.”
Denver had 74 points in the paint to Phoenix’s 32. The Nuggets, who lead the NBA with 57 points in the paint per game, topped 70 for the eighth time this season.
”Seventy-four points in the paint. That sums up the entire game,” Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said. ”They dominated us driving the ball. They are a good team and we did a good job of staying close but they just tightened the screws and pulled away from us.”
Wesley Johnson scored 18 and Marcus Morris had 16 for the Suns. Hamed Haddadi scored a career-high 13 for Phoenix.
The Nuggets return home to face the Knicks on Wednesday night in Carmelo Anthony’s first game in Denver since leaving for New York.
Denver led throughout the second half, but the Suns stayed within striking distance until the Nuggets finished the game with a 16-8 run over the final 4 1/2 minutes.
”I think we ran more in the second half,” Koufos said. ”Our guards did a great job of penetrating the lane and dishing off and we give them credit for that and that’s why we’re so good this year, because our guards are so fast and they can penetrate.”
Denver overcame an off shooting night for Danilo Gallinari, who was 1 for 8 from the field for five points. Koufos also had 10 rebounds.
Coach George Karl said Koufos ”has a great understanding of how to get underneath a defense when the defense makes mistakes.”
”He’s ready to get a pass and he hustles and gets hustle rebounds,” Karl said. ”He probably had three or four put backs tonight. He’s gaining confidence by doing the little things of playing basketball and I really enjoy it.”
Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half, despite Denver’s 38-16 advantage in points in the paint.
A 13-1 Phoenix run erased a 35-30 Denver lead and put the Suns up 43-36 on Michael Beasley’s 19-footer with 5:19 left in the half. But the Nuggets outscored the Suns 17-7 the rest of the quarter to lead 53-50 at the break.
Denver scored the first six of the second half, the first four on fast-break layups by Lawson and Koufos, to go up 59-50 after Kenneth Faried’s two free throws with 10:50 to go in the third.
The closest Phoenix got after that was 72-70 on Jared Dudley’s 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the period. Layups by Brewer and Lawson boosted the lead to 76-70 and Denver led 80-74 entering the fourth.
The Nuggets took their first double-digit lead at 86-76 when Brewer made one of two free throws with 8:44 to play.
Moments later, JaVale McGee’s huge dunk on a lob from Brewer made it 88-79, then Lawson’s fast-break dunk after a turnover put Denver up 90-79 with 6:26 remaining.
”I think we’re being understanding and responsive,” Karl said. ”I still get disappointed in our first-half performances but we make second half adjustments and come out with the right attitude. We’re young in a lot of ways but we’re also very good in a lot of ways, too.”
Denver’s nine-game streak matches its season best. The Nuggets’ last loss was Feb. 22 at Washington.
NOTES: Denver is 20-6 against teams with a sub-.500 record. … Of the Nuggets’ first 26 field goals, 24 were in the paint. … Phoenix C Jermaine O’Neal rejoined the team after his daughter’s successful heart surgery but was not in uniform. … Suns G Shannon Brown played for the first time since the All-Star break. … Koufos’ previous career high was 21 against Cleveland on Jan. 11.