DENVER — The Clippers' three-game winning streak was fun while it lasted.
Proving again to be a team that struggles with any taste of success, the Clippers returned to form Tuesday night, losing to the Denver Nuggets, 128-105, before 14,035 at Pepsi Center.
"Playing with the Clippers, there's no way you can go into a game overconfident . . . just no way," swingman Tyrone Nesby said. "There's no excuse. We have to come out and play ball."
Playing ball is not what the Clippers did in the first half against Denver.
Thanks to a lackluster effort at the defensive end, the Clippers fell behind by 24 points in the second quarter and never recovered.
Six Denver players scored at least 13 points with Antonio McDyess leading the way with 22. Ron Mercer and Raef LaFrentz each scored 20 and Nick Van Exel had 13 points, 13 assists and six rebounds for the Nuggets, who improved to 15-12 and 12-3 at home in their first season at Pepsi Center.
The togetherness and never-say-die attitude that carried the Clippers to five victories in seven previous games was nowhere to be found in the first half against Denver.
"We didn't look like we wanted to play," said power forward Maurice Taylor, who had a career-high 30 points and added six rebounds and three blocked shots. "We really didn't have the same intensity we had the last couple of weeks and it showed in our performance."
With Coach Chris Ford back on the bench for his second game since missing two because of back spasms, the Clippers stayed close early as they utilized Taylor on pick-and-roll plays with Tyrone Nesby. The two combined for 12 points and the Clippers' deficit was only 19-18 eight minutes into the game.
That was as close as they would get, however, as the Nuggets brought the streaking Clippers back to reality.
Getting seven consecutive points from Mercer, the Nuggets took command with a 12-0 run and led, 31-20, at the end of the first quarter.
Denver, which made five three-point baskets in the first half, kept its strong play going in the second quarter with backup forward Keon Clark scoring eight of his 19 points. The Nuggets took full advantage of a lazy Clipper defense and opened a 61-37 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half and led at halftime, 64-46.
"We had five guys not getting back on defense, you could take your choice on who and when but no one got back," Ford said about the Clippers' first half.
"It was a situation when one guy would not get back and we would stop the break but we would leave a three-point open."
The third quarter was dominated by the Clippers, who finally began to run. Taylor scored 13 points in the quarter and Nesby added eight as the Clippers scored 40 points and held Denver to 29 to cut the Nuggets' lead to 93-86 heading into the fourth.
"When you get a big lead, you kind of get bored," McDyess said of the Nuggets poor third quarter.
"But you've got to continue. I actually got worried 1/8in the fourth 3/8."
George McCloud, who scored 15 points off the bench, helped the Nuggets pull away early in the fourth quarter. McCloud made two three-pointers and LaFrentz added a basket and Denver never looked back.
The Clippers, who had seven players score in double figures, simply did not have enough energy to complete the comeback.
"We gave it a great effort to cut it down to seven in the third quarter," said point guard Troy Hudson, who had 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. "But when you're down by 24 and to get it back to seven drained lot of our energy. Not to make any excuses but it does. We had a couple of mental breakdowns early in the fourth quarter and they were able to get their lead back up to 10."
Rookie Lamar Odom did not have a great game as he again got into foul trouble. He scored 10 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds, but played only 15 minutes in the second half.