INDIANAPOLIS, United States // All David West wanted to do on Monday night was get his team playing the right way.
He made sure of it.
West scored 25 points in less than 27 minutes and Roy Hibbert added 14 as the NBA’s top team dominated the middle and blew past short-handed Denver 119-80 for their most lopsided win this season.
“We played with the right attitude. We came out aggressively. We got off to a good start,” West said. “Tonight, we made a concentrated effort to get to the goal. No letdowns.”
For the Pacers (40-11), it was just another stepping stone victory.
They still have the league’s best record, best home mark (25-2) and best defence. They still lead two-time defending champion Miami, now by four games, in the Eastern Conference. They still have not lost back-to-back games since mid-December and have not lost three straight all season. They even padded their league-leading scoring differential.
And if Denver coach Brian Shaw is to be believed, they might have the best overall player in the league, too.
Shaw spent the previous two seasons working extensively to help George when he served as an Indiana assistant.
“Paul George is an All-Star starter, and I said this morning that he’s the best two-way player in the game – and that includes LeBron (James) and everyone else you include,” the Nuggets coach said after Indiana ended their five-game skid in this series.
The scariest part may be that the Pacers didn’t even need George to be at his best Monday night.
He finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists – numbers mitigated by the fact the Pacers were so far ahead after three quarters that coach Frank Vogel rested his starters the entire fourth quarter and didn’t play any of them more than 28 1/2 minutes.
Instead, George was content to let West and Hibbert lead the way.
Did they ever.
West scored 21 of his points in the first half and finished 11-of-13 from the field, making his last nine shots. Not surprisingly, Indiana outscored Denver 58-36 in the paint. Hibbert finished with 12 rebounds on a night the Pacers had a 56-37 advantage.
That, combined with Denver’s depleted roster, was just too much for the Nuggets (24-26) to overcome.
Denver have now lost three in a row, five of their last seven and have suffered their two most embarrassing defeats of the season in less than a week. They lost 117-90 at New York on Friday.
The Nuggets also finished with a season-worst shooting percentage (31.5), far worse than their previous low mark (36.4) against the Clippers on December 21. Only three players reached double figures – Wilson Chandler with 17, JJ Hickson with 12 and Jordan Hamilton with 11.
Only 10 players dressed for the Nuggets and their top two point guards – Ty Lawson, the Nuggets’ top scorer, and backup Nate Robinson – sat out with injuries. Lawson missed the game with a fractured left rib. Robinson was out with a sprained ACL in his left knee. Randy Foye played reasonably well at an unfamiliar spot, finishing with nine points, 10 assists and only three turnovers, but the Nuggets weren’t the same without their two playmaking ball-handlers.
“We were just timid, unsure with everything we did,” Shaw said. “Sometimes, you’re overmatched. Tonight, we were overmatched.”
After trailing for the only time all night, 11-10, Indiana quickly took control.
West spurred a 22-5 run that gave Indiana a 37-20 lead early in the second quarter. The Pacers then finished the half on a 14-4 run to make it 61-40, and Denver never got closer than 19 over the rest of the night.
“At this point in the season, we need every win,” George said. “Tonight we were able to come out early and just execute. I thought we played with a lot of energy, we shared the ball, we did a great job defensively. We forced them to take tough shots.”
OTHER MONDAY RESULTS
Pistons 109, Spurs 100
Brandon Jennings led Detroit with 21 points and six assists, and interim Pistons coach John Loyer won his debut over the short-handed San Antonio Spurs.
Loyer replaced Mo Cheeks, who was fired Sunday after just 50 games as the head coach.
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey supplied 20 points off the bench, and power forward Greg Monroe contributed his 21st double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Detroit (22-29) won their third straight overall and fifth consecutive home game.
Guard Marco Belinelli paced San Antonio (37-15), with 20 points but the Spurs played without Tiago Splitter (right shin contusion), Kawhi Leonard (right hand fracture) and Manu Ginobili (left hamstring tightness).
Rockets 107, Timberwolves 89
The Houston Rockets had all five starters score at least 14 points as they remained one of the NBA’s hottest teams by winning their sixth straight game.
The Wolves, meanwhile, continued their slow fade to irrelevancy. Without injured centre Nikola Pekovic and shooting guard Kevin Martin, and with coach Rick Adelman away from the team for personal reasons, the Wolves lost for the fourth straight time and for the sixth time in seven games.
Chandler Parsons had 20 to lead Houston. Guard James Harden had 19 and center Dwight Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets (35-17).
The Wolves (24-28) lost despite forward Kevin Love’s 31 points and 10 rebounds.
Raptors 108, Pelicans 101
Patrick Patterson scored a season-best 22 points and guard DeMar DeRozan also scored 22 as the Toronto Raptors defeated the New Orleans Pelicans.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak by the Raptors (27-24), who also got 19 points and 12 assists from guard Kyle Lowry. Guard/forward Terrence Ross added 14 points and forward Tyler Hansbrough scored 12.
Tyreke Evans came off the bench to lead the Pelicans (22-29) with 23 points and 10 assists. Forward Anthony Davis added 19 points and guard Brian Roberts scored 18.
Celtics 102, Bucks 86
Jeff Green scored 29 points as the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks.
Boston centres Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger each posted double-doubles, Olynyk finishing with 14 points and 11 boards and Sullinger with 13 points with 10 rebounds.
The only team to lose twice this season to the Bucks – owners of the league’s worst record (9-42) – Boston (19-34) pulled away from Milwaukee early in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics built a 10-point lead when Green sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 7:32 to play.
Warriors 123, 76ers 80
The up-and-down Warriors clicked against the Sixers, led by reserve centre Marreese Speights’ 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting and eight rebounds. Stephen Curry added 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting and eight assists.
Golden State (31-21) improved to 7-8 since a 10-game winning streak ended on January 8 with a loss to Brooklyn.
Draymond Green, starting in a small-ball line-up with centre Andrew Bogut missing his third straight game, pitched in 11 points and 11 rebounds, as well as four blocks.
Michael Carter-Williams scored 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting to pace Philadelphia (15-38).