DENVER — Denver coach Michael Malone was worried his team would have another letdown against a losing team. His fears were justified.
Kevin Love had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 111-103 victory over the Nuggets on Saturday night.
Collin Sexton finished with 25 points and Tristan Thompson had 18 points and 13 rebounds for Cleveland, which held off a furious Denver rally to win its second straight and just its second against a team with a winning record.
“They made their run, we were able to keep our composure, didn’t panic,” Love said. “Guys made shots. Everybody gave us something down that the stretch that was able to give us the win.”
Six of Denver’s 12 losses have come against teams with 15 or fewer wins, with three of those coming at home.
“It seems like bad teams come in and play freely against us,” Mason Plumlee said. “We’re expected to win. We need to play like it.”
Malone hoped his team learned from a loss in Washington last week but an 8-for-39 night from 3-point range and sub-par defense cost the Nuggets against the Cavaliers.
“A lot of them were good shots, open shots. The shots were not going in,” Malone said. “You have to be able to rely on something, hang your hat on something, and that was our defense. Right now we can’t hang our hat on really anything.”
The Nuggets trailed by as many as 17 and were down 14 to start the fourth before outscoring the Cavaliers 25-10, led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, before Cleveland recovered.
Held in check for three quarters, Murray had 14 points in the period while Jokic scored 10 in the fourth and hit a 3-pointer that gave Denver its first lead of the game at 96-95.
Cleveland didn’t wilt, getting 3-pointers from Sexton and Cedi Osman and a floater by Darius Garland to give the Cavaliers a 103-98 led with 2:55 left.
Murray finished with 24 points and Jokic had 19.
“We just missed shots,” Murray said. “That fourth quarter we took the lead but at that point they were in rhythm. If they’re open and making shots they’re confident.”
Garland finished with 18 points and eight assists.
“We just had to finish it,” Garland said. “That’s like a learning curve for us. We haven’t finished games a lot but a good, winning team like that, they’re always going to make a run.”
The Nuggets had a chance to tie but Murray missed a 3-pointer. Will Barton, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, split a pair of free throws and Garland hit a 13-footer.
Love made it 109-101 with a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left.
Cavaliers: Osman finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds. … G Dante Exum (flu) missed his third straight game but joined the team in Denver. … Garland has scored in double figures in the last eight games. … Thompson has a double-double in 19 games, which leads the team.
Nuggets: F Paul Millsap (left knee contusion) sat out his second straight game. … Barton returned to the lineup after missing one game to attend the funeral of his cousin, who was killed Dec. 26 in Baltimore. … Monte Morris finished with 11 points off the bench.
The Nuggets held a moment of silence before the opening tip for former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who died on New Year’s Day at age 77. They also played a video tribute to him during the first timeout of the game. This was Denver’s first home game since Stern’s passing.
Cavaliers: Play at the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
Nuggets: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night.