Nuggets 106, Rockets 97
HOUSTON (AP) _ Nick Van Exel scored 21 of his 23 points in the first half as the Denver Nuggets built a big early lead and coasted to a 106-97 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.
Van Exel hit nine of 17 shots from the field in the first half as the Nuggets opened a 61-37 lead. The Rockets never got closer than nine in the second half.
Denver had five players in double figures. George McCloud had 17, followed by Tariq Abdul-Wahad with 14, Chris Gatling with 13 and Bryant Stith with 12.
Cuttino Mobley led Houston off the bench with 24, followed by Shandon Anderson with 14.
Houston’s Steve Francis was ejected with 3:09 left in the third period after a flagrant foul on Abdul-Wahad as he drove to the basket.
Van Exel scored 12 first-quarter points, including eight in the first 3:35 of play.
Houston managed a 13-12 lead with 5:47 left in the first period. Denver then outscored the Rockets 11-2 to move ahead 25-15 with 2:47 left in the quarter. 3-pointers by Antonio McDyess and George McCloud in the final minute of the period boosted the Nuggets to a 34-21 advantage going into the second period.
Van Exel added nine more second period points as the Nuggets continued their domination with a 17-0 run for a 53-27 lead with 5:01 remaining in the half.
A pair of late baskets by Van Exel gave Denver a 61-37 lead at the half.
Houston had a brief third period rally, outscoring Denver 14-2 to open the quarter to cut the Nuggets lead to 63-51.
Denver responded with an 18-4 run and led 85-64 going into the final period.
Notes: Francis is the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points (874), rebounds (262), assists (347) and steals (72). ... Houston is 6-0 when Anderson leads them in scoring. ... Denver’s 86-67 loss to Phoenix Tuesday night was its first in 10 games this season when holding its opponent below 90 points. ... In 17 of Denver’s 25 victories this season, the Nuggets have trailed by at least seven points and nine times have trailed by 10 or more.