After three quarters, Denver Nuggets go fourth and prosper
After late-game success, team seeks consistency from start to finish
During their season-best five-game winning streak the Denver Nuggets have owned the fourth quarter, outscoring the opposition by nearly 10 points per game.
The production has been necessary for survival.
Trailing after three quarters in each of the first three games of their current homestand, the Nuggets have put together a closing act that captivated the audience but caused some anxiety for the coaching staff.
“I like that we’ve stayed determined and overcome leads in the fourth quarter,” coach George Karl said after practice Monday. “But I’d rather see some fourth quarters at home where we have the game under control in the fourth, the bench comes in and extends it and we cruise control into a win.”
Tuesday night would be an ideal time to carry out that script.
The Nuggets (23-16) will open a back-to-back set against the Portland Trail Blazers at Pepsi Center in advance of Wednesday night’s road game against the Northwest Division-leading Oklahoma City.
“We’ve been winning the second half, but we’re not going to be able to do that all year – just wait the fourth quarter to play well,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “We’re going to try to come out strong and try to win the first three quarters.
“We want to get the crowd behind us and try to get some rest in the third and fourth quarter so we can go to Oklahoma with our legs under us.”
Utilizing their formidable depth, the Nuggets looked like the team with fresher legs in the fourth quarter against Golden State. The Warriors had six players who logged at least 19 minutes, compared to nine for Denver.
The Nuggets outscored Golden State 37-18 in the fourth quarter and enjoyed a 48-19 advantage overall in bench scoring.
“A lot of teams are going that way,” reserve point guard Andre Miller said. “You can’t play these guys 35, 40 minutes a game. You have to have guys (on the bench) who can come in and contribute and know how to play. We’re in a good direction with knowing how to get out there and get us back into games and provide stability.”
Denver’s bench got deeper Sunday with the return of forward Wilson Chandler, who scored 14 points and had six rebounds while stepping into Karl’s nine-man rotation.
“He gives us another athlete who can run and defend and make some shots,” Karl said. “He’s had some big-time scoring nights in the NBA. Rebuilding his confidence and finding his stride will take some time. He’s worked very hard. He’s been a very committed guy that we want to help feel confident in what he does.”
Other than some expected soreness in his surgically repaired left hip, Chandler said he felt good Tuesday morning – a good sign in his continued recovery.
Even without Chandler, Denver’s bench has performed at a high level all season, and it could a difference-maker again against the Blazers.
Led by All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, standout rookie point guard Damian Lillard and talented wing Nicolas Batum, all five Portland starters account for more than 85 percent of the scoring. No reserve averages more than 4.7 points.
“Our bench is going to be a big key,” Lawson said.
In a perfect world, Denver's reserves will be on the floor in the final seconds of the fourth quarter Tuesday – this time putting the finishing touches on a comfortable victory.
TRAIL BLAZERS AT NUGGETS
WHEN: 7 p.m. MT
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV; RADIO: Altitude, NBA TV; 104.3 FM, AM-950
F Nicolas Batum
F LaMarcus Aldridge
C JJ Hickson
G Wesley Matthews
G Damian Lillard
DENVER: None to report.
PORTLAND: Meyers Leonard (ankle) and Elliot Williams (Achilles' tendon) are out.
The Nuggets have won 21 of their last 23 home games over Portland … Denver has fared extremely well in Portland in recent years, having gone 9-12 at the Rose Garden since the 2002-03 season … Denver is an impressive 24-12 (.667) overall against the Trail Blazers since 2003-04, with nine of the Blazers’ 12 wins coming in the past four seasons … The Nuggets have won the season series against Portland in six of their last 10 years … Denver and Portland both registered 50+ wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – prior to these last two years, the last time both teams finished with 50+ wins during the same season had been 1987-88 (Denver 54 and Portland 53).