DENVER — George Karl didn’t sound like the coach of a Denver team on a streak not seen in 43 years. He sounded like a coach ready to shake things up in the final weeks before the playoffs.
Moments after his Nuggets beat the Sacramento Kings 101-95 on Saturday night for their 15th straight win, Karl was lamenting his players’ second straight lackluster performance.
“What I’ve been telling the team, telling them for three days, the next (11) games I don’t want to hear about rest, I don’t want to hear we’re tired, I want our attitude to be the best basketball we’ve played all year,” he said. “And if you don’t want to do that then I’ll play somebody else. I don’t want to hear about my body hurts, I’m sore. Everybody plays the same amount of games, and resting’s not going to get us ready for the opportunities.
“If we had a bunch of 30-year-olds I might have a different opinion but we have a bunch of 25-year-olds.”
Karl was talking after the Nuggets tied the franchise record for consecutive wins, which was set by the Denver Rockets in the 1969-70 ABA season. While he was happy to get the win and stay ahead of Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers for third place in the Western Conference, the way Denver has played the past two games is an issue.
It was also an issue for the players, who heard Karl’s thoughts in the locker room.
“He was not happy with us, he was pretty mad with us,” said Danilo Gallinari, who led Denver with 19 points. “The last two or three games we’ve been up and down. We’ve had some good stretches and bad stretches, probably because we’re relaxed after all these wins we’ve had.”
Kenneth Faried had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Nuggets, who have won 17 straight at home.
And they did it while Ty Lawson (right heel) and Wilson Chandler (shoulder), two of their top players, were out with injuries.
Lawson and Chandler have been catalysts in Denver’s winning streak. Lawson has scored 20-plus points in 20 of his last 31 games and hit the game-winner against Oklahoma City on March 1.
Chandler, fully recovered from offseason hip surgery that cost him most of the first half of the season, has been big off the bench. He has scored 35 points twice and 24 in another game. His play Monday in Chicago helped the Nuggets win in overtime and extend their streak to 12 games.
Chandler and Lawson were injured in the Nuggets’ 114-104 win at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. Chandler separated his left shoulder and Lawson bruised his right heel.
Without the pair Friday the Nuggets needed six points in the final 10 seconds to cap a frantic comeback for a one-point win over Philadelphia.
“We have a different personality without Wilson and Ty,” Karl said. “We haven’t found a comfort zone or a flow without them, especially offensively.”
Though they had all five starters in double figures against Sacramento on Saturday, it took until the final minutes to hold off the Kings, who got 24 points and 15 rebounds from DeMarcus Cousins.
They used a 7-0 run early in the fourth to take an 81-76 lead, but Sacramento hung around, getting within a bucket twice. Kosta Koufos scored on a layup and Faried’s fast-break dunk gave Denver a 95-88 lead with 3:44 left.
Two layups by Cousins made it 95-92, but he missed a short shot in the lane that would have made it a one-point game. Andre Miller’s three-point play with 51 seconds made it 98-92.
John Salmons, who finished with 18 points, hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to cut it to four, but Miller sank two more foul shots.
“Miller was Miller in Miller time,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. “He made plays down the stretch.”
The Kings took the Heat to double overtime in Miami on Feb. 26 before losing. It was Miami’s 11th win in a streak that has grown to 25.
“We have been in this situation. We were in a game against Miami and like that game we couldn’t finish,” Salmons said. “They heard us banging.”
Saturday, Sacramento seemed poised to end Denver’s run after falling behind by 15 late in the second quarter. But 11 straight points from the Kings made it a four-point game early in the third.
Sacramento took its first lead on Salmons’ 3-pointer with 2:15 left in the third, and Cousins’ thunderous dunk and driving layup pushed the advantage to 71-66.
“We had a chance. The difference is they are in a streak, they have won games like this and they continue to win,” Cousins said. “That gives them an edge against a team like us.”
The Nuggets scored the last four points of the period to cut it to one heading into the final stanza. But the Nuggets know they have to play better to make it 16 in a row.
“I think the streak could be a problem now,” Faried said. “Guys are getting a big head and too much complacency.”
CLIPPERS 101, NETS 95
LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul scored 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter after banging his left knee early in the game and Los Angeles held off Brooklyn in a matchup of playoff-bound teams.
Paul made 12 of 13 free throws and had 11 assists, Willie Green added 15 points, DeAndre Jordan had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Blake Griffin scored 11 points for the Clippers, who improved to 28-8 at home and won their second in a row.
It was their franchise-record 10th consecutive victory against an Eastern Conference team.
The Nets were led by Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with 18 points each. Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson added 15 points each and ex-Clipper Reggie Evans had 16 rebounds.
BULLS 87, PACERS 84
CHICAGO — Luol Deng scored 20 points, Carlos Boozer had 18 and Chicago overcame the absence of starting center Joakim Noah to beat Indiana.
Deng had 13 points at halftime, but Chicago’s reserves sparked the Bulls’ second-half rally, outscoring Indiana’s reserves 32-15. Taj Gibson scored 11, and Daequan Cook and Nate Robinson had nine apiece.
The Bulls went on a 13-5 run starting the fourth quarter to take an 81-72 lead. A four-point play by George Hill brought Indiana within 87-84 in the final minute. After a missed driving shot by Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich with 16 seconds left, the Pacers had a chance to tie, but Paul George had two 3-point tries go off the rim in the final 10 seconds, including one at the final buzzer.
George led the Pacers with 23 points.
GRIZZLIES 110, CELTICS 106
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jerryd Bayless scored a season-high 30 points and Memphis weathered a fourth-quarter rally by Boston’s reserves to escape with the victory.
Seven Memphis players finished in double figures and three recorded double-doubles. Darrell Arthur, starting for Zach Randolph, scored 18 points, while Randolph had 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Paul Pierce led Boston with 26 points, while Jordan Crawford keyed a fourth-quarter rally, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the final frame. The Celtics lost their fourth straight game.
Both teams played without key players. Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee sat out for Boston with left ankle sprains. Memphis center Marc Gasol is out indefinitely because of an abdominal tear.
KNICKS 110, RAPTORS 84
NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony scored 28 points, Kenyon Martin had another big game against Toronto to help New York finish off a home-and-home sweep of the Raptors.
J.R. Smith added 25 points for the Knicks, who beat the Raptors for the second straight night and won their fourth consecutive game. Martin had 18 points and seven rebounds, a night after he had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the Knicks’ victory in Toronto that clinched a playoff berth.
DeMar DeRozan scored 17 points for the Raptors, who played without leading scorer Rudy Gay because of a bad back and lost their fourth straight.
Knicks guard Jason Kidd had three points, three rebounds and two assists on his 40th birthday.
WARRIORS 101, WIZARDS 92
OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry scored 35 points before injuring his ankle late in Golden State’s victory over Washington.
Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson hit 14 of their 22 combined shots in the first half and totaled 53 points in the first game of a five-game homestand.
Curry left with 6:03 left in the game after turning his right ankle after being fouled hard by Cartier Martin while driving to the hoop. Curry’s right ankle has given him problems in the past.
Martin led Washington with a career-high 23 points.
PISTONS 92, BOBCATS 91
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlie Villanueva scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead driving layup with 15 seconds left, and Detroit beat Charlotte to snap a 10-game losing streak.
Villanueva hit three 3-pointers in the final period to help the Pistons avoid their longest losing streak since 2010.
Jason Maxiell added 14 points and Rodney Stuckey had 13 points and eight assists off the bench for the Pistons.
Kemba Walker had 25 points and Bismack Biyombo had 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Bobcats, who had their two-game winning streak snapped.
The NBA-worst Bobcats had the ball and a chance to win the game with 14 seconds left, but Walker missed an off-balanced leaner in the lane and Josh McRoberts’ reverse layup after an offensive rebound didn’t fall as time expired.