HOUSTON (AP) – The Denver Nuggets pounced when they sensed the Houston Rockets were starting to crumble.
Danilo Gallinari sank three 3-pointers and scored 18 points for the Nuggets, who converted 28 points off 23 Houston turnovers to beat the Rockets for the fifth straight time.
Denver took control with a 21-5 burst late in the third quarter, turning a flurry of Rockets’ turnovers into easy baskets. Lawson said the Nuggets noticed a lapse in the Rockets’ defense as their mistakes mounted.
“They’re high-scoring and they love transition, but they don’t like guarding,” said Lawson, who also had seven assists. “Whenever they scored, or even when we got the rebound, we played in the third quarter to push it and try to get easy points. They didn’t really run back too much and that’s what we did.”
James Harden scored 23 points but committed seven turnovers, and Omer Asik grabbed 13 rebounds for the Rockets. Houston coach Kevin McHale took point guard Jeremy Lin out of the game with 3:27 left in the third quarter, but the Nuggets continued their surge.
JaVale McGee turned in the highlight of the night, flipping the ball off the backboard and then dunking the putback with one hand for an 80-64 lead.
“I thought, if I didn’t dunk it, I was going to get taken out of the game,” McGee said.
The Nuggets shot 62 percent (13 of 21) in the third quarter and scored 12 points off seven Houston turnovers.
Denver poured it on in the fourth quarter, stretching the lead over 20. Chandler drove down an open lane for an easy layup with 9:18 left and fans headed for the exits.
The Rockets have lost eight of nine.
“I think, right now, we are low on confidence, there’s no question,” McHale said. “You can see it with our guys and we’re going to have to pump `em up and get `em believing again.”
McGee and Andre Iguodala scored 14 points apiece for the Nuggets, who’ve won eight of their last 10 games. Denver shot 55 percent (22 of 40) and outrebounded Houston 21-16 in the second half.
“We’ve just got to keep playing like that,” Lawson said.
Lin, meanwhile, watched the fourth quarter from the sideline for the second straight game. McHale also yanked him at the end of Monday’s 100-94 win in Charlotte in favor of newcomer Patrick Beverley. Lin is 7 for 24 from the field in his last three games, but McHale downplayed his benching.
“Jeremy’s fine,” McHale said. “We’re just looking for some stuff, it wasn’t anything.”
The Rockets came into the game leading the league in turnovers (16.5 per game) and they were sloppy from the start on Wednesday, giving away five turnovers in the first six minutes. Iguodala finished a Denver fast break with a dunk after another Rockets’ miscue for a 25-14 lead.
The Rockets cut into the deficit by hitting six of their first 12 shots from 3-point range. Carlos Delfino‘s first 3-pointer of the game came early in the second quarter and pulled Houston within 31-29.
Harden got poked in the right eye trying to block Corey Brewer‘s 3-point attempt from the corner midway through the second quarter. Rockets trainer Keith Jones came out to check on Harden, and they walked to the bench together. Harden checked back into the game at the next whistle, then converted a three-point play after a steal to trim Denver’s lead to 40-35.
The Nuggets went cold late in the half, and Houston rallied to take a 44-40 lead. McGee dunked an alley-oop pass from Andre Miller and Denver led 46-44 at halftime despite missing 14 of 20 shots in the second quarter.
The teams were tied at 57-all when Denver went on the decisive spurt in the third.
Notes: The Rockets trailed by double digits for the 12th consecutive game. … Harden led the Rockets in scoring for the 21st straight game. Moses Malone holds the team record, going 23 straight games as Houston’s top scorer during the 1981-82 season. … The Nuggets open a season-high, six-game homestand against Sacramento on Saturday. Denver played 22 of its first 32 games on the road. … Nuggets coach George Karl got his 1,100th career win and Iguodala surpassed 10,000 career points.
By CHRIS DUNCAN, AP Sports Writer
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)