HOUSTON -- If there's one player who never has to be reminded of the importance of rebounding, it's Denver's Kenneth Faried.
That was clear on Wednesday night.
Faried, a second-year player who holds the NCAA modern-era record for rebounds with 1,673 in his college career, had three in the last minute to hold off a late surge from Houston.
"I just felt the whole game that Kenneth had the spirit that he was going to win this game tonight," Denver coach George Karl said. "He was pretty incredible."
James Harden had a tough night for the Rockets and finished with a season-low 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting.
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Harden bulled into the lane for a layup to cut Denver's lead to five with just less than four minutes remaining. But Danilo Gallinari tipped in a missed free throw before a rim-rattling alley-oop dunk by Faried pushed the lead to 89-80.
A pair of free throws by Jeremy Lin cut it to 91-87 with 1:21 remaining. Lin got knocked in the nose on the foul and was bleeding. He had to shoot the free throws with paper stuffed in his left nostril.
Faried blocked a layup attempt by Harden and Chandler Parsons missed a 3-pointer seconds later.
Faried got the rebound on the miss and dunked it on the other end to secure the win.
"The block, his offensive rebounding, his energy -- I thought he was probably the most energized guy on the court," Karl said.
Faried, who finished with nine offensive rebounds, said those rebounds were most important when the Nuggets struggled to hit shots late.
"I think it has a lot to do with what we do in practice," he said of offensive rebounding. "Extra possessions are really important in this league and we got a lot of them tonight."
Harden, Houston's newest acquisition, was held in check for most of the night and entered the fourth quarter 2 of 9 with just seven points. Traded from Oklahoma City on Oct. 27 and signed to a five-year, $80 million contract extension a few days later, he was named the Western Conference player of the week after scoring 106 points in his first three games.
"Right now we're in a little bit of a funk," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "The game right now feels hard ... it doesn't feel like it's rolling and flowing, and we've got to get rolling and flowing and then good things will happen."
Harden believes Houston's struggles come from his joining the team so recently.
"As the games go on, we'll get better," he said. "We haven't played together. We didn't have a training camp or have time to really put in some sets, so we're kind of just figuring things out as we go."
Denver double-teamed Harden some, but the main task of guarding him fell to Andre Iguodala.
"He's such an explosive scorer the way he attacks," Iguodala said. "You really have to be alert at all times. The biggest thing is just being proactive and not reactive to what he's about to do."
The Nuggets led by four in the fourth quarter and used a 7-2 spurt, capped by an alley-oop dunk by Faried to make the lead 78-69 with about nine minutes remaining.
Houston finally got its offense going after a tough-shooting first half and went on a 20-7 run to open the third quarter and cut the lead to 63-61 with just under three minutes left in the quarter. Patrick Patterson led the charge in that span, scoring 12 points.
Patterson had a chance to tie it with about two minutes left, but he badly missed a jump shot.
Gallinari hit a 3 for the Nuggets before they made four straight free throws to push the lead to eight. Delfino's 3-pointer left Houston down 69-64 entering the fourth quarter.
Asik got hit in the face grabbing a rebound in the third quarter and received four stitches on the side of his left eye. He tried to remain in the game after taking the hit, but officials called a timeout because of the bleeding. They weren't able to stop the bleeding on the court so Asik headed to the locker room.
He returned to the start of the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets led by seven after one quarter. Parsons and Delfino made back-to-back 3-pointers for Houston to cut the lead to 25-24 to start the second.
Denver was up by two points midway through the quarter before using a 21-6 run to extend the lead to 54-39 about 2½ minutes before halftime. Lawson had 14 points including a pair of 3-pointers in that span. Houston missed nine shots, including three layups during Denver's run.
- Asik has had at least 10 rebounds in three straight games.
- Iguodala had 13 points and three steals.
- Harden tied a career high with five steals.