DENVER — The Indiana Pacers have been nearly superhuman in the first half of the season, but the league has found their kryptonite.
Just catch them on the second game of a back-to-back and you’ve got a chance.
The Denver Nuggets made it work for them.
Forward Wilson Chandler scored a season-high 25 points, J.J. Hickson had 14 points and 13 rebounds and the Nuggets beat the Pacers 109-96 on Saturday night.
Guard Ty Lawson had 12 points and 10 assists for the Nuggets, who ran the tired Pacers throughout the game.
“We wanted to run their bigs,” Lawson said. “That was the main focus early. (Forward Kenneth) Faried did it early, was running the bigs and getting easy buckets.”
Guard Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 23 points and 10 rebounds and forward Paul George had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Indiana.
The Pacers have been the best team in the league this season, but their one weakness has been the second of back-to-back games. Six of their league-low nine losses have come in those games, including Saturday.
“We won’t make excuses,” said forward David West, whose team was coming off an overtime win in Sacramento on Friday. “We’re not the only team that has to come from the West (Coast). They were fresh, they were ready for us and they beat us.”
The Pacers, on the other hand, showed fatigue down the stretch.
“I didn’t know how much gas we were going to have in our tank,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
Denver has played well against the NBA elite, although it hasn’t always translated into victories. The Nuggets led in Portland for most of Thursday night’s game before the Trail Blazers rallied to win it.
They didn’t let it happen Saturday, surviving a second-half rally by Indiana.
After the Pacers trailed by 19 at halftime, they had several chances to cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter, but Denver’s defense rose up each time.
After West missed two jumpers in the lane, Lawson hit a driving layup to push the lead to nine.
The biggest play came earlier when guard Randy Foye, whose soft pass was stolen by guard C.J. Watson, raced back to block Watson’s layup and keep it a six-point game.
“It’s huge. It’s a hustle play,” Lawson said. “It changed the momentum back to our way and we were able to close the game. He could have easily let him lay it up but Randy always plays hard.”
The Nuggets also made it tough on themselves by missing 16 free throws.
“If we make the free throws it would have been a different kind of game,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said.
Chandler came through for his team at both ends. He had nine points in one stretch to keep the Nuggets comfortably ahead and his defense forced George into tough shots.
George missed 12 of 18 shots.
“Night in and night out he always gives us a consistent effort on the defensive end,” Shaw said of Chandler. “He always has the toughest assignment on the other team so it’s good for him to see some shots go down.”
Indiana couldn’t find its offense in the first half but got it back in the third quarter. The Pacers, who scored just 36 points in the first 24 minutes, had 40 in the third to make it a fourth-quarter game. They were 15 of 25 from the field in the quarter and cut a 19-point deficit to six.
The Nuggets led by 10 heading into the fourth quarter.
“It just wasn’t good enough,” West said.
The Pacers looked a step slow in the first half. They went nearly four minutes without a point at the start of the second quarter, and that allowed Denver to take control.
Nuggets guard Nate Robinson hit two 3-pointers and scored eight of his 13 first-half points to highlight an 11-0 run to start the quarter, giving Denver a 33-18 lead. He finished with 15 points.
Denver closed the second quarter on an 11-2 run to lead 55-36 at halftime.
NOTES: The Pacers are the only NBA team with fewer than 10 losses. … The Nuggets honored former team president and general manager Carl Scheer before the game and at halftime. Scheer was a key player in the ABA-NBA merger in 1976 and was a pioneer in the dunk contest that is a featured part of NBA All-Star Weekend. Scheer led the Nuggets in their early years in the NBA when they reached the playoffs in eight of the 10 seasons he was at the helm. … Indiana G Lance Stephenson leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season with three. … Denver F Darrell Arthur missed his sixth straight game with a left hip strain.
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