(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The Minnesota Timberwolves can not beat the Nuggets sans Kevin Garnett as last night's, 106-97, thumping proved yet again. In fact, it has been since February 14th, 2007 that the T-Wolves haven't chalked up a W against the Nuggets and for those keeping track that's seven straight games Minnesota has been defeated by Denver.
In the first meeting of these two teams this season, Chauncey Billups had his best outing of the season with a game-high 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a block while only turning the ball over once as the Nuggets defeated Minnesota, 90-84.
I guess some things, against some teams, like to remain the same.
Last night, Chauncey only played in the first three quarters but that was enough burn for him to score another game-high 27 points on 6-9 from the field, including a perfect 12-12 from the free-throw line and 3-5 from downtown, in just 25 minutes of action. Chauncey can also be credited with making sure the Nuggets didn't fall too far behind in the first quarter as Denver allowed Minnesota to jump out to a 9-0 lead before he scored the next eight straight Nuggets points to reel the Wolves back in.
Despite spotting the Wolves the aforementioned nine early points, I felt the first quarter was pretty mechanical. Denver's loose and lively attitude in pregame warm-ups perhaps was to blame for the sluggish start, but Chauncey's lead-by-example showmanship quickly knocked the Nuggets back into stride as they entered the second quarter down by just six, 31-25.
However, in the second... The Nuggets tightened things up defensively to outscore the Wolves, 35-23, and their dominance in the quarter was just a prelude of things to come.
Once the second half started, Denver muzzled the Timberwolf offense to just 16 points as they blew the game wide open after the score tightened, 66-63, by way of a 14-0 run that spanned over six minutes of the third quarter. For the Nuggets, everyone got into the act during this dominating stretch with Billups serving as the ring leader. Carmelo had a jumper and a lay-up, Billups had a short two and a three, and Kenyon Martin and Dahntay Jones were both the beneficiaries of a pair of dazzling Billup's assists leading to rim-shaking dunks as the game got out of hand for Randy Wittman's Wolves.
Denver would proceed to open up their biggest lead of the game, 87-67, after a pair of made free-throws by Nene with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter before most of the starters were pulled so Coach Karl could rest his crew knowing that the Rockets are tomorrow's tail end of back-to-back games and their fourth in five nights.
For the Wolves, they missed yet another chance to win their first consecutive games of the season while dropping to 4-11 overall.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points while recording his third straight double-double, and sixth overall this season, with ten rebounds and a steal. Other Nuggets of note were Linas Kleiza and Anthony Carter. LK scored 15 points, grabbed two rebounds, recorded a steal, an assist, and a block and Carter, who is truly the unsung hero of this team, played extremely pesky defense while scoring 12 points, snaring nine rebounds, dishing four assists, and adding a pair of blocks and steals in a team-high 28 minutes off the bench.
In addition to all the great performances from last night there are a few trends that are starting to emerge about this team. For starters, Denver is 7-1 when scoring at least 100 points, including 10-3 overall since shipping Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups. Carmelo Anthony has also officially broken out of his early season offensive slump by scoring 20-plus points in four of his past five contests, after not doing so in four straight games prior. And finally, Denver is the NBA leader in free-throw attempts per game (32) and was 26-for-33 from the line last night including 18-for-22 in the first half. In any game that the Nuggets can get over 30 free-throw attempts in not only do they win the game over 80% of the time; it keeps the other team out of their offensive rhythm, keeps the Denver turnovers to a minimum while the scoring still soars, all the while keeping the opposition in a halfcourt style of play which greatly benefits the Nuggets.
Now all Denver has to do is turn right around and beat the three headed monster of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest and Rick Adleman's Rockets tonight at the Pepsi Center!