By PAT GRAHAM
The Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2011; 11:38 PM
DENVER -- Ty Lawson scored 23 points and Denver's smothering defense forced 23 turnovers, helping the Nuggets snap a two-game skid with a 123-90 rout of the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
The Nuggets raced out to a 29-point lead in the second quarter and never looked back, beating the Raptors for the seventh straight time at home.
Denver was without guards Raymond Felton (left ankle) and Arron Afflalo (left hamstring), but hardly missed a beat. The Nuggets had seven players score in double figures as they improved to 10-4 since the blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks last month.
Andrea Bargnani had 20 points for the Raptors, who snapped a franchise-record 14-game road losing streak the night before in Oklahoma City.
With Lawson leading the charge, the Nuggets pushed the pace all night on the fatigued Raptors.
The diminutive point guard scored 17 of his points in the first quarter. He also finished with eight assists before getting the rest of the night off early in the fourth quarter, along with the other starters.
Then again, given Denver's depth, it's hard to tell the starters from the reserves anymore. Nene scored 18 for the Nuggets and Al Harrington led the cast off the bench with 15 points, while fellow reserve Gary Forbes added 14.
Lawson has provided an offensive spark, the team going 14-6 in his starts. He's also averaging nearly five more points and four more assists than when he enters the contest off the bench.
Everything was going the Nuggets' way early, including a buzzer-beater by Danilo Gallinari to end the first half, giving Denver a 72-44 lead.
The Nuggets led by as many as 41 points, before hitting the brakes.
The rout allowed Gallinari to rest the sore big toe on his left foot. He said the fractured digit remains painful, but doesn't limit his mobility and that once he steps on the court, "I don't think about the toe no more."
These days, Gallinari's far from the only Nuggets player nicked up.
Felton sprained his ankle at Orlando last Friday and sat out the next night in Miami.
However, as he hobbled out of the arena following morning practice, Felton vowed he would be ready Wednesday night against San Antonio.
The team may take a more cautious approach with Afflalo, especially since he re-aggravated his hamstring in Miami. The same injury recently sidelined Afflalo for three games.
The Nuggets returned home after a grueling four-game road swing that saw them beat New Orleans and Atlanta, before falling to Orlando and Miami.
They currently occupy the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture and are trying to work their way into the fourth slot and host a first-round series.
The Nuggets trail Oklahoma City by four games for the No. 4 position.
"They probably have too much of a gap on us," said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team still plays the Thunder twice in April. "But let's try to scare them.
"You never know in basketball."
Notes: The season of Louisville guard Chris Smith came to a close on his big brother's homecourt after the Cardinals were stunned by Morehead State, 62-61, at Pepsi Center last Thursday. "I'm proud of him," said J.R. Smith, who had 13 points against the Raptors. ... Asked before the game if there was anything players could do physically to prepare for the altitude difference, Raptors coach Jay Triano simply chuckled and said, "Not now. I don't think there's anything now." ... The Raptors haven't won in the Mile High City since Dec. 30, 2003.