CLEVELAND — The Denver Nuggets are still recovering from a woeful stretch when they lost seven of eight games, but coach Brian Shaw saw enough out of them Monday to believe they can beat anyone in the league.
Guard Arron Afflalo had a season-high 23 points, guard Ty Lawson had 24 points and 12 assists and the Nuggets ended the Cleveland Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak with a 106-97 victory on the road Monday night.
The Nuggets (3-7) entered as one of the league’s worst defensive teams, yet held a high-powered Cavs’ attack to 43 percent shooting and kept them under 100 points for the first time in two weeks and for just the third time this season.
“If we defend the way we did tonight, we could beat any team in the league,” Shaw said. “Tonight was the first game we’ve played four quarters of basketball.”
The Nuggets never trailed in the second half, frustrating a Cavs team that set separate franchise and NBA records for their 3-point shooting in Saturday’s 33-point dismantling of the Atlanta Hawks.
Forward LeBron James, named Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day, battled a head cold that forced him to miss the team’s morning shoot-around. He missed his first five shots before recovering to finish with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. But the Cavs (5-4) turned the ball over six times in the third quarter, leading directly to 11 points for the Nuggets, who scored 26 points off turnovers.
“We didn’t approach the game with the right mentality tonight. We didn’t come out with any grit defensively,” James said. “We were a little bit too comfortable having a four-game winning streak and coming in against a team that hasn’t been playing well.”
The Nuggets took a 96-84 lead on a 3-pointer by forward Darrell Arthur, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Arthur was a non-factor when these two teams met 10 days ago — his flagrant-2 foul on guard Dion Waiters in the first half on Nov. 7 led to his ejection.
“They left me open,” Arthur said. “I’ll take those shots when I’m open. I made every possession count.”
The Nuggets rebounded from a 16-point loss at New York on Sunday to take two of three on this brief East Coast trip. Lawson, who also missed the game against Cleveland 10 days ago with a sore ankle, equaled his season high in assists and made life miserable on Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving.
Forward Kevin Love had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Irving had 20 points and eight assists for the Cavs, while Waiters had 20 points off the bench. Waiters briefly tried to shoot the Cavs back into the game, scoring 11 points in about a five-minute stretch that ended the third quarter and started the fourth.
But Afflalo responded with a 3-pointer — one of 12 the Nuggets made on the night — and the lead swelled to 16 in the closing minutes.
Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov had 14 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and guard Nate Robinson had nine points off the bench, including a pair of crucial 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs beat the Nuggets 110-101 on Nov. 7 to begin the winning streak Denver ended Monday night.
“I knew going into this game this was a dangerous, dangerous game,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “I made that point from the first time we walked in that locker room this morning.
“I knew it was coming. I’ve seen it a hundred times.”
NOTES: Nuggets F J.J. Hickson sat out Monday. Hickson is coming off knee surgery, so he rested the second night of Denver’s back-to-back. … The Cavs’ potent offense started clicking with a Nov. 7 win at Denver. “It could’ve been our defense,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw joked. “Our defense seems to have gotten every team we play going.” … Cavs F LeBron James won the player of the week award Monday for the 46th time in his career, most in NBA history. James averaged 35 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists last week while guiding the Cavs to a 3-0 record. … The Cavs began the night leading the league in 3-point percentage (.406) and ranked third in scoring (107.9).
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