By CHRIS GOFF
ISL Editor/ The Sports Xchange
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers knew they let their guard down and suffered an unnecessary loss to an outmatched opponent on Sunday.
Given an immediate chance at redemption, forward David West and his teammates did not disappoint, riding a wave of anger and motivation to a bulge that made the fourth quarter irrelevant.
West scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half, and the Pacers crushed the Denver Nuggets 119-80 for their biggest win of the season Monday night.
Forward Paul George said the team wanted to wash away the taste of a 93-92 loss at Orlando in which they blew a 17-point lead in the second half. That collapse, George said, did not reflect Pacers basketball.
“We got too relaxed,” George said. “We got away from what we do. You’ve got to have a short-term memory. The game last night fueled us tonight to get back to sharing the ball and playing for one another.”
The all-for-one ethos paid off, as Indiana shot a season-best 57.5 percent from the field, sinking 46 of 80 shots in a game that was barely competitive.
“It seemed like everyone was scoring,” said forward Wilson Chandler, who led Denver with 17 points and five rebounds. “We got no stops. We have to not let it be so easy for the other team to score.”
But the Pacers were determined to build a lead and keep it, seizing a 17-point advantage early in the second quarter and failing to succumb to the turnovers and defensive lapses that plagued them against the Magic, who have the third-worst record in the NBA.
“The basketball gods punished us for that,” said guard Lance Stephenson, who scored 12 points and was once of six Pacers in double figures against Denver. “Tonight we were dialed in. We played so hard.”
As a result, Indiana (40-11) won for the 14th time in its past 15 home games and made quick work of an opponent missing four of its top players.
The margin of victory was Indiana’s largest over Denver in the teams’ NBA history. The Nuggets shot just 31.5 percent from the field (28 of 89) and were outrebounded 56-37, never competing in any facet of the game.
“They kept hitting us, they keep hitting you,” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said of the physical Pacers.
A team that went through an offseason of change, Denver (24-26) lost its third straight and fell for the eighth time in 12 games. The Nuggets were playing without three starters — point guard Ty Lawson, center JaVale McGee and forward Danilo Gallinari — as well as reserve guard Nate Robinson.
What coach Brian Shaw had left on his bench was no match for the league-best Pacers, who led by 11 after the first quarter, by 21 at halftime and by 29 entering the fourth quarter.
“I can take losing,” Shaw said. “I don’t want our guys to display being a loser. When things go bad, I don’t want everyone to splinter off and jump off the ship. That was the one thing I’m disappointed in.”
The visitors dug themselves an early hole and only sunk lower.
The Pacers actually trailed 11-10 before reeling off an 18-8 run, spurred by 13 points from West, who dominated his favorable matchup with the slender Faried.
Although West had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first quarter, he was far from a one-man show.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert had 14 points and 12 rebounds, his 13th double-double, while point guard George Hill added 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists. All of Indiana’s 13 active players scored, and every starter played fewer than 30 minutes.
Indiana led 37-20 on forward Luis Scola’s jumper early in the second quarter and then used an 11-2 run, capped by George’s 3-pointer, to lead 56-36 with 1:33 left in the first half.
Indiana was up 61-40 at the break and was never challenged after that.
“We had a film session and wanted to put last night to rest,” West said. “We made a lot of mistakes last night, didn’t play the game the right way, and it cost us. We can’t afford to give games away when we’re in a fight for the top spot in the conference. I thought we came out with a different resolve.”
NOTES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw was Indiana’s associate head coach for the previous two seasons, helping develop F Paul George into an All-Star and lending knowledge from his championship runs as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaw received applause during pregame introductions and raised a hand in appreciation. … Pacers G Orlando Johnson is away from the team and getting game action with the Fort Wayne MadAnts of the NBA Development League. … Denver concludes its four-game road trip on Wednesday in Minnesota. … The Pacers host the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday in their finale before the All-Star break.
Follow Chris Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PacersScribe.