SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Denver Nuggets have proved they can win regularly at home. The lingering question: Can they do it on the road?
Ty Lawson had 24 points and Danilo Gallinari added 23 for the Nuggets as they won their sixth straight game, defeating the Sacramento Kings 120-113 on Tuesday night.
The deep and talented Nuggets used a 36-point third quarter to build a lead against the Kings that they never relinquished in winning their season-best third straight road game. They scored 70 second-half points when they shot nearly 64 percent.
The Nuggets, who have won seven of eight games overall, began the season with an unbalanced schedule that featured numerous away games. They had two three-game road losing streaks in that stretch and own a 14-19 road record overall.
"Early in the season we lost some leads on the road in the fourth quarter, and we lost some tough games lately," Denver coach George Karl said. "But we're a young team and young teams will do that. But we are maturing and finding our identity a little better."
That identity has become a very difficult team to defeat at the Pepsi Center. The streaking Nuggets have won 11 in a row at home, where they own a 26-3 record, which ties Miami for the best mark in the NBA.
Denver has been a tough team to beat anywhere for the Kings, who dropped their third straight to the Nuggets this season and eighth straight overall.
"You have to be perfect against a team like that," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "That team can do big things and they have the guys that can make plays. I thought we had a chance to pull this out, but we needed to be pretty close to perfect to do that."
It was another typical night of balanced scoring for the Nuggets.
Despite being in foul trouble and playing only 21 minutes, Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Andre Miller scored 16 points and had seven assists, and Kosta Koufos had 15 points and eight rebounds for Denver. Lawson and Andre Iguodala also both had seven assists.
A veteran guard, Miller owns a home and spends some of his summer time in Sacramento, where he has several relatives living in the area. He gave those relatives something to cheer about in the fourth quarter when he was the key for Denver maintaining its lead.
Miller continually penetrated and got to the basket for easy looks, scoring 12 points in the period. His back-to-back layups gave Denver a 10-2 run for a 12-point lead with 3:17 left.
"That's kind of how this team is. You never know who's going to grab the steering wheel and who's going to drive us home," Karl said, referring to Miller's big fourth-quarter effort. "I think it's a pretty versatile asset to have."
Marcus Thornton continued his torrid scoring of late, making five 3-pointers and getting 32 points for the Kings, who have lost eight of their last 10 games. They own the worst record in the Western Conference.
Isaiah Thomas had 23 points, Jason Thompson had 18 and John Salmons scored 11.
The Denver interior defense helped make it a difficult evening for Kings leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins. He missed 11 of 12 shots, was 6 of 10 from the free throw line, and finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and a career-high five blocks.
The tempermental Cousins got into a battle of words with Gallinari and both players were saying similar things about each other afterward.
"He said some disrespectful things and I had some things to say back," Cousins said.
Denver extended the lead to 10 points or more several times in the fourth period, but behind the shooting of Thornton, the Kings didn't fold. A 3-pointer by Salmons midway through the quarter Sacramento to 101-95.
"They had a good run in the fourth, but we were able to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets and hold them off," Miller said.
Lawson scored 12 points and Koufos had nine in the third quarter, when the Nuggets took the lead for good and entered the fourth with an 86-79 advantage. The Nuggets outscored Sacramento 36-29 in the third period and led by as many as 14 points.
Tied at the half, the Nuggets got their offense going early in the third quarter with a 14-3 run. Lawson 3-pointer gave Denver a 64-53 lead.
Thompson made all seven shots and scored 14 points for the Kings, who kept the Denver running game in check during a 50-50 first half.
Thornton scored 12 points for the Kings and Faried had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets in the half.
Off the court, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced last week that 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle made an offer to the NBA to purchase the Kings. At a city council meeting Tuesday night, Sacramento City Manager John Shirey said he intends to bring a financing term sheet for a new downtown sports arena to a vote at the council's March 26 meeting.
Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer signed an agreement in January to buy the Kings from the Maloof family, the majority owners.
The NBA board of governors is expected to vote in mid-April on the fate of the Kings.
Notes: Fat Lever, the Kings Director of Player Development and radio analyst, spent six seasons with the Nuggets (1984-90) and obviously made an impact. Lever remains the Nuggets' all-time steals leader and ranks second in career assists. ... Cousins missed all five shots and had two fouls in the game's opening seven minutes. He went scoreless in the first half, but did collect seven rebounds and had three blocks. ... Faried picked up his fourth foul at 10:06 of the third quarter and went to the bench. ... Thornton made two 3s and Thomas had another in a 50-second span in the third quarter for the Kings.