Basketball

New-look Nuggets turning it around

The Denver Nuggets raised more than a few eyebrows this summer.

Coming off a team-record 57 victories, and another first-round playoff exit, the Nuggets let executive of the year Masai Ujiri leave for a big contract with the Toronto Raptors and also parted ways with coach of the year George Karl.

It was the kind of wholesale change usually associated with the league's bottom feeders. And with four losses in their first five games, there were some nervous Denver fans. New coach Brian Shaw has made some adjustments, going back to the more up-and-down style that fit the star-less roster so well last season. Now the Nuggets (10-6) have won six straight games and nine of their last 11.

"All the guys are starting to understand their role on the team," Shaw said. "I have encouraged guys to shoot when they're open, to run the floor, try to take the first available shot." The Nuggets have overcome the loss of JaVale McGee and Danilo Galinari with a bench that is producing at an impressive clip. With Nate Robinson, who was brought in by new general manager Tim Connelly, leading the way, the Nuggets reserves outscored Minnesota's 47-10 on Wednesday and bludgeoned Toronto's 72-16 on Sunday.

"We have a tag-team mentality which is, first team wear them down and second team wear them out," Robinson said. "For us, early in the year a lot of guys on the team, a lot of guys on the bench, weren't making shots and now we are in our rhythm."

Denver has a good chance to keep the good times rolling this week with games against Brooklyn, Cleveland, Boston and Philadelphia. Here are five things to watch for this week:

—HEAVYWEIGHT MATCHUP

The Indiana Pacers (16-1) take the league's best record into Portland to face the Trail Blazers (14-3) on Monday in perhaps the best game of the week. Both are playing the second night of back-to-backs, so there are no excuses.

—WALL'S ASSISTS: Now that score-first point guard John Wall is getting his teammates involved, the Washington Wizards are starting to win. Wall is averaging 9.2 assists per game over the last nine and the Wizards (8-9) are creeping back to .500. "When we're healthy, we can compete with anybody," he said.

—PAINFUL START: Last week was a disastrous one from an injury standpoint. Bulls star Derrick Rose was ruled out for the season with a torn meniscus. New Orleans forward Anthony Davis, off to a good start, broke his left hand on Sunday and Clippers shooter J.J. Redick is out six to eight weeks with a broken right hand and torn ligament in his right elbow, joining a growing list of injured stars. But ...

—KOBE WATCH: Is this the week Kobe Bryant returns from his torn Achilles? The Lakers have the first four days of this week off. Coach Mike D'Antoni said the Lakers will see how he feels after three practices. If all goes well, he could be in uniform at Sacramento on Friday night.

—VIVA MEXICO: On Wednesday, Mexico City will host a regular season game for the first time since 1997. The San Antonio Spurs will play Timberwolves, who are designated the home team. The Spurs have a league-high 10 international players while the Wolves are second in the league with seven.

STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota: 32 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, four blocks, four steals. Durant has always been an offensive force. But he's been working on his defensive game, and that was evident in Sunday night's 113-102 victory.

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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