West missed his first eight shots before settling in and leading the Hornets over the Nuggets 93-88 on Sunday night, sinking two crucial baskets in the fourth quarter to help quash Denver's comeback as the Hornets improved to 3-0.
"On a night when he wasn't making shots he did some other good things for us on the defensive end and rebounding the ball," Hornets coach Byron Scott said of his power forward who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"It's not always about making shots," Scott said. "Sometimes you are going to have to win them ugly. This was one of those games where neither team played particularly well and neither team shot the ball well."
The teams combined to miss 20 of their first 24 shots.
"Our training camp was all about improving our defense," said Chris Paul, who scored 15 points despite shooting 3-of-11 from the floor. "Our defense was a reason we didn't make the playoffs the last two years. We could always score with the best teams in the league. We just couldn't make defensive stops."
They made plenty of them in crunch time.
"When it got to three minutes left, we realized we were only up by six or so," Paul said. "[Tyson] Chandler was screaming at us in the huddle that we don't have to score any more. We have to do it on the defensive end."
The Nuggets (2-1) haven't started a season with three straight wins since 1985-86.
Paul had 15 points, 11 assists, eight boards and four steals for New Orleans. He sank three of four free throws in the final 29 seconds after the Nuggets trimmed an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to 90-88 on Nene's putback with 46 seconds left.
Allen Iverson scored 23 points for Denver and Carmelo Anthony added 20, but they were a combined 16-for-49 from the field. Marcus Camby pulled down 21 rebounds for the second straight game for the Nuggets.
"Strange game," Denver coach George Karl said. "I never thought my team could be as slowed down as much as they slowed us down. We made them miss a lot of shots, had a lot of opportunities to run and no one wanted to run."
The Hornets did. They outscored Denver 22-11 on fastbreaks.
The Nuggets lost their third point guard when Michael Wilks strained his right hamstring in the second quarter and didn't return. Wilks was re-signed after Denver lost Anthony Carter to a broken right hand and Chucky Atkins to a severe groin strain. Carter is expected to be out four to six weeks and Atkins six to eight weeks. So, Iverson ran the point and logged 46 1/2 minutes.
"It's tough when three of your point guards are injured and not playing and A.I. is playing the point all the time and you also don't have the ability to put another ball-handler on the court," Karl said. "And the conditioning of my team is not great. The injuries, the limited minutes on Kenyon [Martin] and Nene."
Karl said he might put 'Melo at the point, but Anthony said Wilks expects to be back soon.
At one point in the third quarter, the Nuggets' lineup consisted of four forwards and Iverson, and Denver trimmed a nine-point deficit to 71-69 before Chandler outjumped Nene and scored on the putback to give the Hornets a 73-69 lead after the third, and they never trailed in the fourth quarter.
"Our offense was throw-up bad," Karl said. "I mean, it was bad."
West made just 7-of-23 shots for the Hornets, who won their first four a year ago and can match their best start by beating the Lakers on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
The Nuggets play at New York on Tuesday night in the first meeting between the teams since last year's brawl at Madison Square Garden that led to seven suspensions, including a 15-game penalty for Anthony, who led the NBA in scoring at the time.
"It just made me grow up a little bit, realize what's at stake," Anthony said. "That incident, it happened, it's over with. I don't think I even think about it anymore."
And he figures the Knicks, with their tumultuous offseason that included an embarrassing sexual harassment lawsuit, have put the Grapple in the Apple behind them, too.
"I'm pretty sure they did," Anthony said. "They've got enough stuff going on up there to be worrying about what happened 11 months ago."
J.R. Smith completed his three-game team suspension and likely will be activated for the Nuggets' return to Madison Square Garden, where he was at the center of the fight. ... New Orleans C Hilton Armstrong missed the game because of a viral infection.