A subtle smile crept on the face of Denver Nuggets coach George Karl as he emerged from his locker room Tuesday night.
“Oh, the beer is going to taste like champagne tonight,” Karl mumbled to no one in particular.
His Nuggets had just convincingly manhandled the Thunder 114-104 before a sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena to set a franchise NBA record of 13 straight victories.
The outcome snapped OKC's streak of 20 straight victories at home against Western Conference teams and dropped the Thunder to 30-5 at The Peake this season.
It was Karl's 1,121st career victory in 25 seasons as an NBA coach. Though he admittedly was pleased, Karl stressed there is still work to be done.
“Thirteen wins, I don't know where it ranks in NBA history, but it's a good run,” Karl said. “I don't want to get too happy about it because we have a job to do and we have a challenge to move into (the top four seeds) to get a home court (for the first round of the playoffs). There's no question the brand of basketball we're playing is maturing and growing and our confidence is growing with it.”
Reserve point guard Andre Miller celebrated his 37th birthday with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds while essentially winning the game for the Nuggets with his infectious composure.
“We don't win the game without him,” Karl said of Miller. “Well, we might win the game, but it'd be a lot closer.”
Miller and starting point guard Ty Lawson directed a balanced attack that had six players score in double-digits. Lawson led the way with 25 points, while Kenneth Faried had 13 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots.
The victory puts Denver (47-22) just 3½ games behind OKC (50-18) for first place in the Northwest Division and pulls the Nuggets to within five games of San Antonio (51-16) for the top seed in the West.
Is Denver taking aim at passing the Thunder and Spurs?
“That's a hell of a dream,” Karl said with a chuckle. “Yeah, it'd be great if we could pass them. I'm realistic that our team is hot, and the momentum of a hot team can go away as quickly.”
Miller said he and his teammates, “haven't even talked about” claiming the conference's top seed. “We want to be healthy going into the playoffs, that's the main thing,” Miller said.
Olympian Andre Iguodala, who had 10 points and four assists, said it doesn't feel like his team is particularly hot right now.
“Not to me,” Iguodala said. “I just see the things we can improve upon so we can have a great shot at doing special things (in the playoffs). Are we there yet? I don't think so. We just need to continue to keep growing.”
Iguodala also said he didn't think home-court was particularly important.
“I don't think so. That's just me personally,” Iguodala said. “Especially in the (Western Conference), I don't think it's as important. We've been playing so well at home (30-3) that it would seem like we would have an advantage. But once the playoffs start, it's just toss the ball up.”