HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The absence of penetrating point guard Ty Lawson for a third consecutive game finally caught up to the Denver Nuggets and one streak is dead.
While the Miami Heat, surviving now two games without Dwyane Wade thanks to that fella named LeBron James, demolished Orlando for consecutive win No. 27 on Monday, Denver’s franchise-best 15-game win streak came to a miserable end in New Orleans. The Hornets, playing without their two best players, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon, got hot early and rode it to a 110-86 romp.
Hey, it happens. What it reveals is the importance of the Nuggets’ previously sizzling point guard, who is out with a bruised and tender heel.
Denver squeaked past Philadelphia and Sacramento at home to keep the streak alive without Lawson, but at New Orleans, with little ball movement, the Nuggets shot just 37.9 percent and were outscored in the paint (44-38) for the first time since December. Denver averages 57.6 points in the paint per game, a league best by far.
What the loss should in no way diminish is Denver’s dominant play during the streak — eight wins by double-digit points and eight over current playoff teams — and the very real possibility that this supposedly star-less juggernaut could represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
* Not only streak snapped: The Hornets became the first team to dump Denver since Feb. 22, and is also the first West team to beat the Nuggets since Jan. 16, ending the Nuggets’ 15-game roll against conference foes.
Denver’s more modest six-game road winning streak also came to an end, a run that dates back to Feb. 22 at Washington. For a team that exhausts opponents at home (32-3) but has trouble transferring its up-tempo attack on the road (17-20) — and with homecourt advantage in the first round still up for grabs — the six-pack of road victories should serve as a confidence boost.
As for the Nuggets’ snapped West streak, Oklahoma City had been the last to beat them, which makes sense since the Thunder own a conference-best 34-12 record against West teams. However, did you know that the Nuggets are second-best at 32-12? They’ve also handed the Thunder one-fourth of their conference losses, going 3-1 against the reigning West champs, including last week’s 114-104 runaway at OKC.
* Making case against West’s best: Against the West’s other seven current playoff teams, Denver is 18-6, including 9-4 against San Antonio (1-1) — where the Nuggets play Wednesday night — OKC (3-1), the Clippers (2-1) and Memphis (3-1). The Nuggets are 3-0 against Houston with one to go in Denver (April 6) and 6-2 against the Warriors and Lakers.
* Homing in on homecourt: With 10 games to go, the Nuggets are fourth in the West, essentially tied with the No. 3 Clippers in the standings, but one game back in the loss column. They’re one game ahead off No. 5 Memphis but tied in the loss column. Of their 10 games left, six are at home and five are against current playoff teams. However, Denver must travel to desperate No. 9 Utah (April 3) and has two left against surging No. 10 Dallas — one at home (April 4) and one on the road (April 12).