By ARNIE MELENDREZ STAPLETON
DENVER — Kenneth Faried didn’t wait for the All-Star dunk contest to put on a big show.
The Denver Nuggets’ second-year star celebrated his invitation to the league’s annual slam dunk contest with a series of rim-rattling, crowd-pleasing jams that set the tone for the Nuggets’ eighth straight win, a 128-96 rout of the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
Faried finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes as the Nuggets won for the 15th time in 18 games since Jan. 1, playing from the opening tip with an intensity that seemed to take the Bulls by surprise.
He had 17 points and eight boards on the break and was on the bench by the fourth quarter along with the rest of Denver’s starters as they relished what had become a laugher.
Wilson Chandler added a season-high 24 points, sinking all five of his 3-pointers, as the Nuggets made quick work of a stingy Bulls team that came in yielding just 91 points a game but watched Denver pour in 100 by the time the third quarter was over.
“Wilson and Kenneth, what an incredible performance,” Denver coach George Karl said. “That’s 45 points on 19 shots. I’ll take that every night.”
Faried said he was more inspired by the television cameras at the Pepsi Center on this night than the chance to be in the spotlight during the All-Star weekend. He said he feels nobody’s noticing the Nuggets as they round into shape following a tough start to the season in which they played 17 of their first 23 on the road, something no NBA team had endured in more than a quarter century.
“I came out with a mindset tonight just to dominate,” Faried said. “I just wanted to come out and make a statement and Wilson came out and did the same thing. Our team did the same thing, wanted to come out and make a statement in a nationally televised game. We did what we had to do tonight.
JaVale McGee put on his own slam-and-jam show, adding 10 points for the Nuggets, who haven’t lost since Jan. 18 and led this one by as many as 35 points.
The Nuggets’ 128 points was their highest output of the season and also the most points allowed by the Bulls this season, surpassing the 120 that Houston had on Dec. 25 — it also marks the most an opponent scored during Tom Thibodeau’s three years as the Bulls’ coach.
“I think today we made a statement on TNT,” Faried said, “and showed everybody hey, notice us, pay attention. We’re out here trying to do our best and we’re out here trying to set records.”
Carlos Boozer led Chicago’s starters with 18 points. The Bulls again were without starting guards Derrick Rose (left knee) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow). Center Joakim Noah (right foot) returned to the lineup, but was held to just one bucket and five rebounds. Reserve Daequan Cook led the Bulls with 19 points.
“Yeah, they’re short-handed, they’re down a couple of guys,” Karl said, unable to avoid a smile as he perused the Nuggets’ best stat sheet of the season. “You know, we did what we had to do and it was fun watching the dunks and the 3-ball going in and the defensive energy and Kenneth bouncing around.”
Faried learned before the game he had been selected to take part in the slam dunk competition during All-Star festivities in Houston on Feb. 16.
“I mean, I’m ecstatic about it, happy to go out there and showcase what I can do and excite the fans,” Faried said before going out and nearly hitting a double-double by the time the Nuggets went to the locker room with a 63-58 halftime lead.
His biggest dunk in the first half came on the break when Ty Lawson’s layup rimmed out and he timed it perfectly to throw down the follow-up. But his best one came in the third quarter when Lawson stripped Noah and flipped the ball to Faried for the fast-break bucket that gave Denver an 80-64 cushion.
Moments later, Faried tied up Noah on his way to the basket, part of a stellar defensive effort during a 28-6 spurt that allowed the Nuggets to coast to their seventh straight win at the Pepsi Center.
“It was an offensive game in the first half. They came out the third quarter and just smoked us,” Thibodeau said. “They played very good defense. They got 37 in the third, got a big cushion, and that was the game.”
With the game out of hand at 100-74 after three quarters, Lawson was the only starter for either team to log any minutes in the fourth quarter and he took a seat after just two minutes.
Lawson finished with 16 points and 12 assists and the Nuggets were an astonishing plus-40 when he was on the court.
“It was fun, everybody was into it,” Faried said. “I mean, it was a hell of a night.”