Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
DENVER – The Denver Nuggets knew January could make or break their season.
Thanks to a big fourth quarter, they head into February with confidence and momentum.
Danilo Gallinari scored a game-high 27 points, Kenneth Faried had 19 points and nine rebounds, and the Nuggets beat the Houston Rockets 118-110 on Wednesday night.
It was Denver’s fifth consecutive win and, just as important, it capped a month in which it went 12-3. After spending most of the first two months on the road, they took advantage of 12 home games to start 2013 off right.
“We knew from the beginning of the season January was the most important month of the season,” said Gallinari, who tied a career high with four blocked shots. “I thought we responded well.”
Denver played 22 of its first 32 away from home, including 17 of the first 23. It was the first time in 28 years a team had that heavy a road schedule to start the season, and on Dec. 31 the Nuggets were 17-15.
Now, they’re 29-18 and flying high.
“We took advantage of the schedule,” guard Andre Miller said. “We did our job early maintaining .500 heading into the home stretch in January.”
Ty Lawson scored 16 points, and Andre Iguodala had 15 points for the Nuggets, who beat Houston for the third time this season and twice in the last week.
Jeremy Lin scored 22 points to lead the Rockets, and James Harden and Chandler Parsons added 21 each. The Rockets had won three in a row, including a 45-point win at Utah on Monday.
They couldn’t maintain the momentum when the Nuggets turned up their defense.
“Defensively, the first 10, 11 minutes of the fourth quarter was probably the reason we won it easy,” Denver coach George Karl said. “Our offensive was good, but we got confidence in the game when we finally kept them out of the paint, kept them off the boards.”
Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer with a minute left in the third gave Houston an 85-77 lead, but Denver closed out the period strong to trail just 86-83 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Two 3-pointers by Gallinari and some missed shots by the Rockets sparked a 24-3 Nuggets run that gave them a 101-88 lead with 6 minutes, 54 seconds left. The Rockets missed six consecutive shots and committed six turnovers, which helped Denver take the big lead.
Houston had 22 turnovers overall.
“Our turnovers caught up to us. Our defensive deficiencies caught up to us,” Lin said. “They hit tough shots. They had eight 3-pointers the whole game, and they probably had four or five in the fourth quarter. They just got hot, and we were trying to play uphill and come back from there on out.”
Houston clawed back as a jumper by Lin and two 3s by Carlos Delfino trimmed the lead to 101-95 with 4:55 left. Gallinari answered with a corner 3 to make it a nine-point margin.
“Couple of calls and they got to the foul line. They got the momentum from there,” Harden said. “It’s tough. They are so athletic. They get out in transition. Their point guard pushed the ball. They got so many guys who can score. Gallinari hit a couple of big 3s, too.”
The Rockets went on a 7-2 run to pull to 106-102 with 2:55 left, but consecutive buckets by Andre Miller and Lawson made it an eight-point game, and Denver closed it out.
“Gallinari made a couple of tough 3s, and then we decided we were going to do it on our own,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “It snowballed a little bit, and they got ahead. We had to fight back. You never want to lose. You especially don’t want to lose when it’s self-inflicted, and we did.”
The Rockets led by as many as eight in the third quarter. Toney Douglas helped build the lead with a steal and layup on two consecutive possessions to help Houston build the lead.
The score was close throughout the first half, with neither team leading by more than four. Harden led the way for the Rockets with 13, and Iguodala had 12 for the Nuggets.
Both teams got to the line in first two quarters, shooting a combined 38 free throws.