Point guard Andre Miller scored all of his 18 points in the second half as the Denver Nuggets handed the Memphis Grizzlies their third-straight defeat, while the struggling Los Angeles Lakers edged the Washington Wizards for their second win in December.
Miller was the difference in a close game from start to finish Friday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, making several key buckets on fast-break opportunities and also connecting on four free throws in the closing seconds of the 99-94 victory.
Shooting guard Andre Iguodala also played a key role for the Nuggets, who improved to 12-12 on the season, leading his team in scoring with 20 points and also dishing out seven assists.
Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson added 14 points and 13 points, respectively, while power forward Kenneth Faried made a significant contribution by hauling down 10 rebounds.
Forward Rudy Gay was the key player for the Grizzlies, leading all scorers with 21 points and picking up the offensive slack on an off night for Memphis' big men.
He had a chance to tie the game and potentially send it into overtime but his 3-point attempt with 5.9 seconds left in regulation rattled out. Miller then proceeded to ice the game with two made free throws as the Grizzlies dropped three straight games for the first time this season and fell to 14-6.
Much of the Grizzlies' success this season is attributable to their power duo of center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, but neither performed up to par on Friday night.
Gasol ended the night with just 10 points in 37 minutes of action, although he did grab nine rebounds. Randolph managed to score just 10 points in 32 minutes and was surprisingly absent on the boards, pulling down just five rebounds.
The Grizzlies will look to get back on track Saturday night when they wrap up a three-game road trip against the Utah Jazz.
Elsewhere, the Lakers got just their second win in December, bouncing back from a road loss to the New York Knicks the night before to hold off the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center 102-96.
The Lakers built a 14-point lead after three quarters of play, but the Wizards stormed back and reduced to lead to three points at 92-89 after a pair of free throws by Brazilian center Nene Hilario.
A controversial foul call on a 3-point attempt by Kobe Bryant with four-and-a-half minutes to go, however, halted the Wizards' momentum.
Although Martell Webster did not appear to touch the Lakers' forward on the shot, the foul was called and Bryant - who finished with a game-high 30 points - made all three free throws to give his team some breathing room.
The Lakers improved to 10-14 on the season and got a rare victory in a game when Bryant scored 30 or more points. Prior to Friday night, their record had been 1-11 in those games.
Always a prolific scorer, Bryant has been forced to carry the Lakers' offense in the absence of two injured starters: power forward Pau Gasol and point guard Steve Nash.
The Lakers are now 5-9 with coach Mike D'Antoni on the sidelines and 2-6 in December.
D'Antoni was hired to replace Mike Brown, who was abruptly dismissed after the star-studded team got off to a disappointing 1-4 start. The team briefly got on track under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, going 4-1 to run its record to .500, but has struggled again since D'Antoni took the reins.
High expectations surround the Lakers this season after the offseason acquisitions of Dwight Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year, and Nash, a two-time league MVP who is currently out of action while recovering from a non-displaced leg fracture.
In other action on a busy Friday night in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 95-85, the Orlando Magic topped the Golden State Warriors 99-85, the Toronto Raptors routed the Dallas Mavericks 95-74, the Brooklyn Nets scraped past the Detroit Pistons 107-105 in double overtime and the Milwaukee Bucks edged the Cleveland Cavaliers 90-86.
The Houston Rockets rolled to a 101-89 victory over the Boston Celtics, the Minnesota Timberwolves cruised past the New Orleans Hornets 113-102, the Oklahoma City Thunder notched their 10th-straight win by defeating the Sacramento Kings 113-103 and the Phoenix Suns trounced the Utah Jazz 99-84. EFE