With Carmelo Anthony's return to Denver looming on Wednesday, the Nuggets didn't get caught in a trap game Monday night against the struggling Phoenix Suns.
Denver went inside early and often to take care of business and enter the showdown against Anthony and the New York Knicks with a head of steam.
Kosta Koufos scored Denver's first 13 points and finished with a career-high 22, Cory Brewer added 20 points, and the Nuggets ran their winning streak to nine games with a 108-93 win over the Suns.
Only the Miami Heat, who have won 18 straight, have a longer streak going than the Nuggets, who are now 19-4 over their last 23 games and have bookend nine-game winning streaks to mark the surge. Denver also won nine straight from Jan. 20-Feb. 9, and it matched that mark Monday thanks to two team trademarks -- balanced scoring and points in the paint.
Denver had five players score in double figures, with Ty Lawson collecting 19 points to go with six assists and just one turnover to back up Koufus and Brewer. The NBA leaders points in the paint, the Nuggets really took it to the Suns -- who played without centers Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal -- piling up 74 points inside, including 22 fastbreak points.
"Our guards did a great job of penetrating the lane and dishing off," Koufos said. "That's why we're so good this year, because our guards are so fast."
Wesley Johnson had 18 points, Marcus Morris added 10 of his 16 in the first quarter, and Hamed Haddadi had a career-high 13 for the Suns, who had won four of the previous six but couldn't keep pace once the Nuggets shifted to a higher gear.
"They dominated us driving the ball," Phoenix coach Lindsey Hunter said. "They are a good team, and we did a good job of staying close, but they just tightened the screws and pulled away from us."
After losing 19 of their first 30 road games, Denver (43-22) has won four straight away from home. The Nuggets now go home -- where they are 29-3 and have won 13 straight -- to face the Knicks.
The Nuggets went inside from the outset. Koufos scored all of his initial 13 points from three feet and in, and Denver scored 20 of its first 23 points in the paint on layups and dunks.
"Kosta has a great understanding of how to get underneath a defense when the defense makes mistakes," Denver coach George Karl said. "He probably had three or four put-backs tonight. He's gaining confidence by doing the little things of playing basketball. He and JaVale (McGee) give us two guys than can have big nights."
The Suns (22-42) kept pace with 10 early points from Morris during a 12-2 run. Phoenix ran off a 10-0 run early the second quarter thanks to 3-pointers by Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley. A three-point play by Haddadi gave the Suns a 41-35 lead with 7:34 left in the half.
The Nuggets answered with eight straight points -- including a highlight-reel, three-quarter-court pass from Lawson to Kenneth Faried for the alley-oop jam -- and ended the half on a 17-7 run to take a 53-50 lead at intermission. The Suns got as close as 72-70 on a Dudley 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the third quarter, but the fourth belonged to the Nuggets, who led by as many as 18.
"They just got out in transition," Johnson said. "Our (19) turnovers led to that, and we didn't do a good enough job on getting back on defense. They got a lot of easy buckets that pushed the lead up, and we had to play catch-up from there."
Now comes the big meeting with Anthony, who will play in the Pepsi Center for the first time since he was dealt to New York in February 2011.
"I hope it's a celebration, but when the game gets started, I hope (the fans) are supportive of and crazy wild for us," Karl said. "The Knicks are one of the teams that travels well in the NBA that has lot of fans. We've done a good job this year, our fans, of drowning out the Lakers fans and the Chicago Bulls fans."
NOTES: Before the game, Karl praised Lawson, who was averaging 24.2 points a game and shooting 53.3 percent over the previous 14 contests. "He's playing super," Karl said. "Everyone can see that, and with a lot of confidence. Ty is our engine and we will ride him if he's playing well." ... The Suns have only 22 wins this season, but they have been giant killers. Of the six teams with 40 or more wins so far this season, the Suns have beaten four of them: Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-0) and the Miami Heat (2-0) avoided their grasp among the league's top clubs. ... How big was the offensive differential? Denver ranks third in the NBA in scoring and has topped 100 points in 23 of the past 24 games. The Nuggets are averaging 110.9 during the nine-game winning streak. When the Suns scored 107 points in their win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, it was the first time they had topped the century mark at home since Dec. 19 (121 vs. Charlotte). ... O'Neal (sick daughter) is back in town, and he could play Wednesday in Houston. ... Gortat is out for at least three weeks with a foot injury.