Darting through the lane, dipping past defenders, Earl Boykins was a blur on the hardwood.
The NBA's smallest player had 25 points and a season-high 10 assists to lift the Denver Nuggets to a 92-82 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
This performance came on the heels of Tuesday's win over Seattle in which the 5-foot-5 guard set a league record with 15 points in overtime. It never got that close this time around.
``I'm surprised every time he steps out on the court,'' Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said. ``A guy that size. The things he can do. He's got the heart of a lion. It just shows that when your heart's that big and you care that much about playing the game, good things will happen to you.''
Denver snapped Memphis' four-game winning streak and gave interim coach Michael Cooper the first winning streak of his own since taking over the team on Dec. 31. The Nuggets, who have struggled all season, pulled within four games of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference -- and the last playoff spot -- with the midpoint of the season close at hand.
Lorenzen Wright scored 17 points and former Nugget James Posey had 15 on five 3-pointers for the Grizzlies, who lost for just the second time in 12 games and only the eighth time in the 25 games since Mike Fratello took over for Hubie Brown as coach.
Memphis played just hours after the sudden death of play-by-play voice Don Poier, 53, who had been calling games for the franchise since its conception in Vancouver in 1995.
``I can't say that the news today affected us,'' Fratello said. ``We had a job to do tonight. We have to sharpen our play.''
Like Boykins, Marcus Camby had a second-consecutive big game, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots after a 25-point, 24-rebound night against the Sonics. That helped the Nuggets win easily without Carmelo Anthony, who sat out after hurting his right ankle Tuesday.
Since Anthony went out in the third quarter of that game, the Nuggets have played better, cutting and moving on offense, pushing the ball when they can and playing more aggressively everywhere on the court. The results on this night were telling: Denver shot 49 percent and outrebounded Memphis 49-24.
A lot of the Denver rebounds resulted in a quick outlet pass to Boykins or Andre Miller, who pushed the pace and helped the Nuggets find easy shots. Miller finished with 14 points and six assists.
``We want to do that all the time,'' Cooper said of the rebound-and-run method. ``Now, they see we're successful when the ball is in Earl's and Andre's hands. Those guys are capable and willing to pass the basketball.''
Fittingly, though, it was a shot by Boykins that essentially sealed this game. Pounding the dribble, Boykins took one big step into the lane, got his defender back on his heels, then stepped back himself for a fadeaway 16-foot jumper. It gave Denver an 87-74 lead with 3:54 left and marked the start of garbage time.
``I feel I shouldn't miss an open shot and I shouldn't turn over the ball,'' Boykins said. ``Slowly but surely, Coop is changing our offense. We're running different plays each game and that makes it tough to scout us.''
Martin returned from missing a game with strep throat and had 13 points and eight rebounds. Martin reared back as if to punch Pao Gasol (eight points, four rebounds) after a hard foul early in the fourth quarter, but the two didn't come to blows and it was nothing like the scene last Friday night when Nene got into a fight with Michael Olowokandi of the Timberwolves.
``K-Mart is a lot like Shaq in that people want to foul him because they know he's a questionable free-throw shooter,'' Cooper said. ``His reaction was great. He knows he's going to get the hard fouls. He bites the bullet and walks away from it.''
Nene missed his third game of a four-game suspension due to the fight.
I have to admit, I didn't think we could pull this off with Carmelo Anthony injured(expected to start back when the road trip begins in Dallas). But low and behold, Earl Boykins had alot in him this game, and stepped up without Anthony. I hope Anthony is back to 100% in the game against the Mavericks(26-12), because they will not go down without a fight. Make it 3 in a row Nuggets!