All David West wanted to do Monday night was get his team playing the right way.
He made sure of it.
West scored 25 points in less than 27 minutes and Roy Hibbert added 14 as the NBA’s top team dominated the middle and blew past short-handed Denver 119-80 for its most lopsided win this season.
“We played with the right attitude. We came out aggressively. We got off to a good start,” West said. “Tonight, we made a concentrated effort to get to the goal. No letdowns.”
For the Pacers (40-11), it was just another stepping stone victory.
They still have the league’s best record, best home mark (25-2) and best defense. They still lead two-time defending champion Miami, now by four games, in the Eastern Conference. They still have not lost back-to-back games since mid-December and have not lost three straight all season. They even padded their league-leading scoring differential.
And if Denver coach Brian Shaw is to be believed, they might have the best overall player in the league, too.
Shaw spent the previous two seasons working extensively to help George when he served as an Indiana assistant.
“Paul George is an All-Star starter, and I said this morning that he’s the best two-way player in the game — and that includes LeBron (James) and everyone else you include,” the Nuggets coach said after Indiana ended its five-game skid in this series.
The scariest part may be that the Pacers didn’t even need George to be at his best Monday night.
He finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists — numbers mitigated by the fact the Pacers were so far ahead after three quarters that coach Frank Vogel rested his starters the entire fourth quarter and didn’t play any of them more than 28 1/2 minutes.
Instead, George was content to let West and Hibbert lead the way.
Did they ever.
West scored 21 of his points in the first half and finished 11 of 13 from the field, making his last nine shots. Not surprisingly, Indiana outscored Denver 58-36 in the paint. Hibbert finished with 12 rebounds on a night the Pacers had a 56-37 advantage.
That, combined with Denver’s depleted roster, was just too much for the Nuggets (24-26) to overcome.
Denver has now lost three in a row, five of its last seven and has suffered its two most embarrassing defeats of the season in less than a week. It lost 117-90 at New York on Friday.
The Nuggets also finished with a season-worst shooting percentage (31.5), far worse than their previous low mark (36.4) against the Clippers on Dec. 21. Only three players reached double figures — Wilson Chandler with 17, J.J. Hickson with 12 and Jordan Hamilton with 11.
Only 10 players dressed for the Nuggets and their top two point guards — Ty Lawson, the Nuggets’ top scorer, and backup Nate Robinson — sat out with injuries. Lawson missed the game with a fractured left rib. Robinson was out with a sprained ACL in his left knee. Randy Foye played reasonably well at an unfamiliar spot, finishing with nine points, 10 assists and only three turnovers, the Nuggets weren’t the same without their two playmaking ball-handlers.
“We were just timid, unsure with everything we did,” Shaw said. “Sometimes, you’re overmatched. Tonight, we were overmatched.”
After trailing for the only time all night, 11-10, Indiana quickly took control.
West spurred a 22-5 run that gave Indiana a 37-20 lead early in the second quarter. The Pacers then finished the half on a 14-4 run to make it 61-40, and Denver never got closer than 19 over the rest of the night.
“At this point in the season, we need every win,” George said. “Tonight we were able to come out early and just execute. I thought we played with a lot of energy, we shared the ball, we did a great job defensively. We forced them to take tough shots.”
All David West wanted to do Monday night was get his team playing the right way.
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