Nuggets Fly By Hawks


Nick Van Exel couldn't do anything right on Saturday. Two days later, it was just the opposite.

Van Exel had 23 points and 20 assists, and Raef LaFrentz scored 24 points as the Denver Nuggets beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-100 Monday night.

"I just wanted to go in and be aggressive," said Van Exel, who recorded his first game of more than 20 points and assists after scoring just four points Saturday in Vancouver. "I only took eight shots and didn't penetrate much in the last game."

The last Nugget to eclipse the 20-assist mark was Mark Jackson, who had 21 points and 22 assists on Jan. 20, 1997 in a game against New Jersey.

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Game Summary

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  • "I have to go out there and play freely," said Van Exel, who has averaged 30 points and 12 assists in his last three home games. "Dan (Issel) has given me the green light to do that."

    Ron Mercer added 19 points for the Nuggets, and rookie Ryan Bowen grabbed 11 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. The Nuggets had 22 offensive rebounds and scored 23 points off second chances.

    Isaiah Rider led Atlanta with 28 points. Dikembe Mutombo had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Hawks, who are winless in two road games.

    "It was like we were stuck in mud," Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We can't just stand like we did tonight and watch a guy go by for a rebound. We have to put a body on them."

    Denver took an 85-81 lead into the fourth quarter and extended it to 92-85 with 8:21 left on two free throws by Bowen. Atlanta didn't score its first basket of the period until Rider's 15-footer with 7:31 remaining ade it 94-85.

    Keon Clark, Mercer and LaFrentz hit baskets to put Denver up 100-88. Consecutive baskets by Jason Terry, and a layup by Rider pulled Atlanta within 102-94 with 3:58 left, but Antonio McDyess hit a baseline jumper and Van Exel sank a 3-pointer with 2:09 left to seal the win.

    The game was tied 54-54 at halftime, but Mercer and George McCloud hit 3-pointers to start a 17-9 run that gave Denver a 71-63 lead. But Atlanta scored the next six points to pull within two.

    "I was 6-for-6 in the first period and didn't see the ball in the second period," Rider said. "I'm upbeat, but we have to define who our scorers are."

    The Nuggets started slowly, missing their first five shots while Atlanta built a 10-0 lead. McCloud ended the drought with a reverse layup with 8:55 left in the first quarter and began a 9-0 run by Denver.

    Notes

  • Atlanta's LaPhonso Ellis made the trip, but remained on the injured list with a strained left calf.
  • Antonio McDyess has scored in double figures in 55 consecutive games.

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