DENVER (AP) – Denver’s bench is giving the Nuggets’ starting five a push for playing time. At this rate, the reserves might be just as good as the starters.
This time, it was Corey Brewer scoring 22 points and being, as his coach said, “a pest defensively,” and Wilson Chandler chipping in 13 points in the Nuggets’ 104-88 win over the depleted Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
Starter Ty Lawson had 18 points and Kenneth Faried had another double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, but it was Denver’s bench – which outscored Oklahoma City’s reserves by 60 points in their last game – that provided the effort and energy that helped the Nuggets finally shake the Hawks.
Behind their reserves’ 50-point night, the Nuggets won their 11th straight game at the Pepsi Center and matched Miami’s NBA-best 26-3 home record.
“It’s the energy, the altitude, but we’re also jelling as a team,” Brewer said. “We’re starting to play together and we know each other a little bit.”
“It’s been great,” Chandler said. “We’ve got a chemistry going. We’re pretty much going in at the same time, we just go out there and play hard. Andre and JaVale hook up for a few lobs and JaVale’s on the boards blocking. Andre’s orchestrating the whole deal and Corey’s running around on defense, fast breaks.”
The crowd feeds off Denver’s bench players and “they’re probably one of the forces that helps us win most of our games at home,” Lawson said.
At .896, the Nuggets are in position to post their best home winning percentage in franchise history. They went 36-5 for an .878 home winning percentage in 1976-77, their first season in the NBA.
“Well, that’s reachable,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
For most of three quarters, however, the latest home blowout wasn’t the cakewalk many in the crowd expected against a banged-up, tired team playing the final game of a six-game trip.
Eventually, the Hawks ran out of gas and bodies, though.
Al Horford scored 18 points for Atlanta, and Josh Smith chipped in 15 points, becoming the 24th player in league history to collect 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocks. His milestone came on a night when many of his teammates were spectators as the Hawks were without Kyle Korver (toe), Zaza Pachulia (sore right Achilles) and DeShawn Stevenson, who skipped the second game of this back-to-back like he normally does because of balky knees.
Horford’s jumper pulled the Hawks to 63-61 before Lawson hit two free throws and a 26-foot 3-pointer followed by Chandler’s bucket that made it 70-61 and forced a timeout in the third quarter.
“We didn’t have all the guys who impact the game so much,” Smith said. “In the fourth quarter, they were able to string some makes together. They’re a fast-breaking team and as soon as a shot’s missed it seems like there are already two guys already back for a layup.”
Fatigue finally kicked in during the fourth quarter when three straight baskets by Brewer capped a 10-2 run Denver used to build a 96-79 lead.
“I wish it would have kicked in a little earlier, but it did kick in and that was good,” Karl said. “They’ve been on a long trip. And the third quarter, we looked like we were going to break it open a little bit and they would always cut back into us and finally the last five minutes we got away from them.”
The Hawks won the first three games of the trip but lost the last three.
“Tired both physically and mentally,” Hawks coach Larry Drew lamented. “It’s been a long road trip. Fatigue does factor into at this point.”
That was most evident on the fastbreak, where the Nuggets outscored the Hawks 29-13.
“It was a tough,” Horford said, “but I was proud of the guys who dressed up and played. It’s a long season, you deal with injuries, and guys came out and fought. We hung around, but it was very overwhelming. They were good in the fast break.”
Notes: Drew said Korver strained his right big toe in Atlanta’s 99-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. He stayed in the game, but soreness set in afterward. … Anthony Tolliver started for Stevenson and Dahntay Jones started for Korver, who leads the NBA with a .462 shooting percentage on 3-pointers. … The Nuggets have won eight of their last nine home games against Atlanta, including the last six.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer
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