Bargnani, Raptors dispatch Nuggets
The high of beating the NBA's best team didn't last long for the Denver Nuggets. No surprise, really. That's the way things have gone for Denver over the past three weeks.
Andrea Bargnani scored 26 points, Jose Calderon had 10 points and 10 assists and the Toronto Raptors snapped a nine-game losing streak against Denver, beating the Nuggets 105-96 Wednesday night.
Hoping to strengthen their playoff credentials after dumping the league-leading Bulls 108-91 in Chicago on Monday night, Denver had another rough landing instead.
"For the past month we haven't had the proper focus after a good game," Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo said. "We've done a great job of bouncing back and recovering but usually when we win a game, we come out and lose that next one. That's a habit we can't afford at this point in the season."
Denver is 5-7 since a four-game winning streak from Feb 29 to March 5, and has not won consecutive games in that span.
"I can't remember the last time we won back-to-back games," Afflalo said. "That's not because of our ability, that's just not being focused after going out and competing and playing a good game the night before."
Ty Lawson, who was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and finished two points shy of a season-high, agreed that Denver has lacked consistent effort in recent weeks.
"You can just tell by how we play," Lawson said. "Big games, we're probably way more focused. Everyone's knees are bent, ready to go. Some games we might let up a little bit and we can't keep doing that."
With Utah losing at Boston on Wednesday night and Houston inactive, the Nuggets remained ninth in the tightly packed Western Conference playoff race.
"I've said it a thousand times, we have fought very hard to be in a good place and I still think we are in a good place," Denver coach George Karl said. "The schedule is difficult but it isn't impossible. There's going to be a lot of maneuvering."
Toronto's two former Nuggets had big games. Gary Forbes had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double and Linas Kleiza scored 15 points. DeMar DeRozan added 17 points as the Raptors beat Denver for the first time since March 23, 2007.
Lawson had 26 points and nine assists, Afflalo scored 13 and Wilson Chandler had 13 for the Nuggets, who came in 13-1 against Eastern Conference opponents this season. Denver's only other loss to an Eastern team was a 100-99 home loss to Cleveland on March 7.
Al Harrington scored 10 points and Kenneth Faried had 10 for the Nuggets, who took a six-point lead in the final quarter but couldn't hold on, largely because of a poor shooting performance. Denver made just three of 20 attempts in the fourth.
"We just didn't knock down shots and they were hitting everything," Lawson said.
Andre Miller's layup gave Denver a 94-88 lead with 8:28 remaining, but Ben Uzoh made a driving layup, Forbes hit a 3 and Bargnani made a fadeaway jumper to give the Raptors a 95-94 lead with 5:30 left, forcing Denver to call timeout.
After a missed jumper by Chandler, Bargnani hit a 3 with the shot clock winding down, putting Toronto up 98-94 with 4:50 left.
Afflalo and Bargnani each made a pair of free throws before Bargnani hit a 3 from the top, extending Toronto's lead to 103-96 with 2:35 to go.
Bargnani made seven of 14 from the field and 10 of 12 from the line, his best game since missing 26 of 28 contests with a strained left calf.
"He had a pep in his step," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "He had the same pep that he had prior to the injury. I wanted to go to him as much as possible and make sure we took advantage of it."
Toronto, which had lost five of six, snapped a two-game losing streak.
Bargnani scored 10 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors scored the first seven points of the game and led 27-22 after one.
The Italian added six more in the second, passing 6,000 career points in the process, and Kleiza hit a buzzer-beating 3 as Toronto overcame 10 points from Lawson to take a 55-53 lead at the half.
The Raptors were unable to hold their advantage through the third. Chandler's layup tied it at 63-63 with 8:44 left in the quarter, sparking a 12-4 run by Denver over the next three minutes that was capped by huge dunks from Faried and JaVale McGee.
Lawson scored 16 points in the third but DeRozan had 11 to keep the Raptors in it, and the teams went to the fourth tied at 85.