Nuggets take 2-0 lead in series with Hornets

By: AP
By: AP

Chauncey Billups hasn’t had this much fun on the basketball court in Denver since he was winning two high school state titles back in the mid-1990s.

Billups led the Nuggets to another blowout of the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night, scoring 31 points in Denver’s 108-93 win.

“I do want to kind of apologize. I said he’s a player without skills” after the series opener, Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He’s very skilled. But he plays the game without skills a lot. He plays the game with a brain, and a teamness, a point guard leadership. Then he figures out when to put the skills in the game.

“I’m happy he’s putting a few more skills on the court lately. It’s pretty cool.”

In two games, Billups has scored 67 points, made 12-of-15 3-pointers and sunk all 19 of his free throws while getting a dozen assists and not committing any turnovers.

“I’ve always kind of been a safe player. I don’t take that many chances if I don’t have to,” Billups said. “I try to make the right play. I don’t always make the right play but I try to. I try to think the game out, but I’m in a nice little groove right now and guys have been playing great around me.

“And it’s just been a lot of fun. Winning is fun, man.”

The best-of-seven series moves to New Orleans for Game 3 on Saturday night with the Nuggets holding just the third 2-0 edge in their 33-year NBA history.

Karl said the pair of blowouts mean nothing when the series shifts to the Hornets’ home court.

“They’re going to be very angry and very physical,” Karl said. “The game got a little more chippy tonight. It seemed like they were trying to tease us into mistakes and I’m sure it’s going to continue on the road. Coach (Byron) Scott is obviously upset with the physicality of the game and we’ll see where it goes.”

Scott said it wasn’t the rough play that bothered him as much as his team’s 17 turnovers, which led to 23 points, compared to Denver’s six turnovers, which led to a single point by the Hornets.

This is the first time the Nuggets have won the first two games of a playoff series since 1985, when they took care of Utah in five games in the Western Conference semifinals.

Billups’ arrival from Detroit in the lopsided Allen Iverson trade transformed the Nuggets from an afterthought to the West’s second seed and a franchise record-tying 54 wins. Now, he has his hometown team closing in on its first trip to the second round in 15 years.

“He’s playing as well as you can play right now,” Chris Paul said.

After his one-man offensive outburst in the opener, Billups, who attended the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder after leading Denver’s George Washington High School to two state titles, had company in the limelight on this night.

Carmelo Anthony, quiet in Game 1 with just 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting, scored 22 points and dished out nine assists. J.R. Smith added 15 points.

David West scored 21 points to lead the Hornets, but he needed 20 shots to do it. Peja Stojakovic added 17 points and Paul had 14 points and 13 assists.

Once again, the Hornets were hounded relentlessly by Denver’s defense, finding few answers to Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, Nene and Dahntay Jones.

In an attempt to bottle up Billups, the Hornets changed their defensive look and assigned Paul to cover him. That didn’t work, either. Billups burned him just like he did Rasual Butler in the first game when he had 36 points and eight 3-pointers.

Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smit…

AP - Apr 23, 2:17 am EDT
“We have to make life more difficult for him, make him play under a little more duress,” West said. “He does too good a job of getting his team into what needs to be run. He won’t allow them to take bad shots. He’s controlling that team over there. He doesn’t allow them to get out of sorts. He doesn’t allow them to get out of control. He has them in control from start to finish.

“He can dominate the game. He is pretty tough to deal with.”

Denver took control of this one early, using an 11-0 run to build a double-digit lead in the second quarter, and Billups was right in the middle of it, scoring seven points and dishing out an assists. Even his one miss wasn’t that bad—when his 3-point attempt rattled out, Andersen was right there to throw it down.

The Nuggets took a 52-44 halftime lead thanks to Billups’ third straight 18-point half in this series.

The Hornets started to get flustered in the third quarter when Billups spun free past Paul then pulled up for a jumper in the middle of a 16-4 run that turned Game 2 into as much of a laugher as Game 1.

Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smit…

AP - Apr 23, 2:17 am EDT
Last year, the Hornets and Spurs played six straight games with double-digit margins before San Antonio eliminated New Orleans in the second round, and that’s why Paul said the lopsided losses in Denver won’t demoralize the Hornets.

“Not at all. You look at last year against the Spurs, I think that’s why we can hold our heads up,” he said. “We won two games at home and everyone said it was over, we’ve got these guys down. And games in that series weren’t very close.

“As Coach keeps saying, ‘They held serve, they won two games at home. Now we’ve got to do the same.”’

Notes

This is the first time Billups has had consecutive turnover-free playoff games in the same year in his career. … Hornets C Tyson Chandler aggravated his tender left ankle but said he was fine. … Billups’ dozen 3s are a franchise best for any playoff series. … Billups has made 57 straight free throws overall.


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