The Denver Nuggets couldn't miss Wednesday night. Even their mascot hit a half-court shot with his back to the basket.
Antonio McDyess added 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, who scored the first nine points and shot 63 percent for the game including 70 percent in the opening quarter.
Playing their first game since trading leading scorer Ron Mercer to Orlando on Tuesday, the Nuggets finished with season highs in field goal percentage, points and assists (41). Their shooting percentage was the highest since hitting 66 percent against Boston on Feb. 17, 1987.
"That's the most fun I've had since I've been here," McDyess said. "The guys just went in there and relaxed and just played ball. They didn't worry about anything or put pressure on each other. We just had fun."
Ray Allen, named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Tuesday, led the Bucks with 22 points, but only four in the second half. Sam Cassell had 21 points and Glenn Robinson finished with 19 for Milwaukee.
The Nuggets, who have won four straight at home and four of five overall, pened a 36-18 lead in the game's first nine minutes and were never seriously threatened throughout.
In what may have been the highest compliment paid to Denver (21-22) this season, Cassell said, "It felt like we played the Lakers tonight."
The Bucks got as close as 80-73 on a jump shot by Cassell midway through the third period, but Van Exel scored eight straight points, hitting two 3-pointers over Cassell, and the lead never went below double figures the rest of the way.
"Nick has a history of hitting big shots and tonight was no exception," Denver guard Bryant Stith said. "He thrives on the moment and we all look to him in crunch time to hit a big shot for us."
The two arrived in Denver on Wednesday afternoon but managed to contribute as the Nuggets ran a simplified offense when they were in the game.
"I wanted to be a part of it," said Gatling, who took some aspirin to shake a headache before the game. "I don't want to feel I'm not doing my part. I got traded here. It's time to go to work. Why should I sit down and watch them? I want to be able to contribute."
The Nuggets controlled things from the start, hitting six straight shots to open the game and scoring a season-high 45 points in the first quarter. Despite Denver's 64 percent shooting for the half, the Bucks did a good job keeping pace and trailed just 72-62 at halftime.
McDyess had 20 points at the break on 8-of-9 shooting and finished 11-of-15 from the field.
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