Lenard's 25 points lighten Nuggets' burden


DENVER (AP) -- What the Denver Nuggets needed was something to take their minds off their troubles. What Voshon Lenard needed was a big game to take his mind off his own.

Lenard, who has seen limited playing time this season, scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak with an 89-86 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.

Lenard hit three straight baskets two separate times in the final period, bringing the Nuggets back from deficits each time.

"This was just a matter of going out and helping the team," Lenard said. "I was able to do that tonight and help Nick (Van Exel) out. Everybody knows he has been carrying us all year. It's been putting a lot of pressure on him and he's getting frustrated.

"I came out to help us win and get the monkey off our back."

The Nuggets -- who endured a traumatic week with the demand of
their leading scorer (Van Exel) to be traded and the four-game
suspension of their coach (Dan Issel) for making an insensitive
ethnic remark -- rallied from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter thanks to Van Exel, who had 15 of his 20 points in that period.

Rookies Shane Battier and Pau Gasol had 19 and 15 points, respectively, for Memphis, which was without starting point guard Jason Williams, who was sidelined with a migraine headache.

Lenard, who has averaged only 16 minutes a game this season and
who was making only his third start, hit a jumper in the lane, an
18-footer and a layup as Denver built a 74-69 lead early in the
fourth quarter.

While the Nuggets went 4:27 without a field goal, Memphis scored nine straight points, including four free throws by Grant Long, for an 84-81 lead with 1:48 left.

Lenard then hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 1:24 left, and
followed with a layup on a pass from Van Exel and a driving layup
past Gasol for an 88-84 lead with 12 seconds left.

Long sank two more free throws, but Van Exel made 1-of-2 foul
shots and Will Solomon missed a 3-pointer as time expired.

Assistant coach Mike Evans, subbing for Issel, got the win in
his head coaching debut.

"This was just what the doctor ordered," Evans said. "It was time for us to win a game. It feels good to see the smiles on those guys' faces in the locker room."

Evans said Lenard "did what he is capable of. Vo is a jump
shooter. He has really been working on it, his ability to post and
to shoot off the dribble. He's gotten better with taking the ball
to the basket. Our developmental coaches have really put a lot of time and effort in helping him with his game and it paid dividends for us tonight."

Issel phoned the team before the game. "He told all of the players that he loved them, that he appreciated their support and wanted them to go out and play as hard as they possibly could play," Evans said.

Memphis coach Sidney Lowe said his team was "in control of the
tempo for the most part. In the second half, they hit some shots
and Nick got going a little bit. Our inability to score hurt us,
and their 19 offensive rebounds hurt us as well."

Memphis led 21-20 after the first period despite shooting only
30 percent. Battier had five points during the Grizzlies'
seven-point run that erased a four-point deficit.

The Grizzlies opened up an 11-point lead late in the second
quarter, using a 16-6 run capped by Battier's fastbreak slam dunk.
Denver cut the deficit to seven on baskets by Shawnelle Scott and
Ryan Bowen, but Solomon hit a 3-pointer to give Memphis a 47-37
halftime lead.

Each team shot 36 percent in the half, but Memphis made 13-of-15 free throws compared to Denver's 5-of-8. The Nuggets were 0-for-10 from 3-point range.

Back-to-back baskets by Brevin Knight gave Memphis a 53-39 lead early in the third period.

Van Exel keyed a 12-0 run with consecutive 3-pointers to cut the
margin to two and later hit two more jumpers as Denver trailed only
67-66 entering the final period.

Game notes
Memphis forward Stromile Swift did not dress for the third
straight game because of a hyperextended left knee. ... Nuggets
coaching consultant John MacLeod was on the bench, as he will be
for the four games of Issel's suspension. ... The Grizzlies fell to
1-9 on the road. ... Denver has won the last seven meetings between
the teams.