PHOENIX (AP) — George Karl did not remember the last time a team he coached won a game in Phoenix. For good reason, it was 13 years ago.
Nene scored 22 points in 26 minutes and the Denver Nuggets won in Phoenix for the first time in 13 tries with a 116-97 rout of the mistake-prone, cold-shooting Suns on Thursday night.
Karl ended an even longer drought in the desert. The Nuggets’ coach had not won in Phoenix since Dec. 28, 1997, when he was with the Seattle SuperSonics. Karl had not won in Phoenix as coach of Milwaukee or Denver until Thursday night.
“’97, that is a long time ago,” he said. “You don’t like records like that. As old as I get, I still don’t like places I don’t play well in. It comes at a good time. We are still searching for our personality and how we can come together.”
The Nuggets, playing for the first time since losing to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Saturday, converted the Suns’ 20 turnovers into 32 points and shot 52 percent to Phoenix’s 41.
Ty Lawson added 20 points and 11 assists for the Nuggets, who led by 24 after three quarters.
“We had a lot of motivation going into this game. We haven’t won here in seven years,” he said. “Everybody was playing well. Our bench, our starters we were playing together. It was the most complete game we have played.”
Marcin Gortat had 14 points and tied a career high with 18 rebounds for the Suns, who never led in their second-worst home loss of the season.
“We didn’t shrink the floor. We didn’t play physically with them, and we made stupid turnovers,” Gortat said. ” … You can’t win a game like that in the NBA. They had a lot of energy and we had no energy.”
Steve Nash, bothered by an irritated bone in the groin area, played only 10 minutes in the second half.
Phoenix made 5 of 22 3-pointers while blowing a chance to pull within a half-game of idle Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Wilson Chandler added 16 points as Denver improved to 6-2 since the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks.
Vince Carter, coming off a 32-point performance in the Suns’ win over Houston on Tuesday night, made 2 of 11 shots — 0 of 5 on 3s — and scored six points.
Carter said the Suns are a beat-up bunch right now, but that can’t be an excuse. He said the team needs to “throw this one out the window” and concentrate on Sunday’s game against Orlando.
“It’s not that easy,” he said. “The mentality has to be the game is over come Sunday for our next game. But as of right now, we’re not happy with the performance because we’re playing for so much.”
Phoenix committed 14 turnovers in the first half, and the Nuggets efficiently turned them into 24 points. Two came on bad passes by Hakim Warrick on consecutive possessions, the first with 6.1 seconds left in the half, the second with 4.9 seconds to go. Each resulted in two points for Nene, two on an uncontested dunk and two on free throws.
The Nuggets shot 57 percent in the first half, then opened the third quarter with a 6-1 spurt to go up 65-50 on Lawson’s 21-footer, the guard staring at the Suns bench as he backpedaled down the court after the basket.
Denver poured it on from there. When Aaron Brooks inexplicably fired a 3-pointer, and missed, with six seconds left in the third quarter rather than working for a final shot, that allowed J.R. Smith to sink a 3 at the buzzer that made it 90-66 entering the fourth quarter.
By then, though, the conclusion long had been cemented.
Denver broke open a 22-12 lead and the Suns never caught up.
Phoenix cut it to 36-34 on Jared Dudley’s baseline drive with 7:24 left in the second quarter. But the Nuggets responded with a 14-4 run that made it 50-38 on Smith’s second 3-pointer of the night 3:51 before the break.
Fittingly, the game ended with a Phoenix turnover.
Notes: The Suns’ worst home loss was 121-96 to the New York Knicks on Jan. 7. … The loss was the worst overall for Phoenix since a 34-point drubbing in Denver on Jan. 11 that left the Suns a season-worst six games under .500. … The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, appeared at the game. … The game’s only ties after the tip were at 2-2 and 4-4. … A win would have put the Suns five games above .500 for the first time this season.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)