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Nuggets Turn Up Their Play, Put Away Lakers With Big Fourth Quarter
If not for the calendar, which obviously read “March 9,” Friday night’s Nuggets-Lakers game could easily have passed for a first-round playoff contest.
The intensity was that high. From Paul Millsap waving his finger and jawing at Julius Randle when things got physical early on, to the end when Lakers coach Luke Walton and a few of his players were all jazzed up at Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who, let’s just say was enjoying the closing moments of the home team’s victory.
“The whole game was a physical game,” Millsap said. “I think our guys really accepted the challenge. To me, this was a must-win for us.”
And the Nuggets won.
They closed the game on a 9-2 run and fought off the Lakers, 125-116 at a Pepsi Center that buzzed with playoff energy all night long. The win snapped a three-game home losing streak and put the Nuggets back in the win column as they kept pressure on the L.A. Clippers to win, which they did, beating Cleveland to stay a half-game ahead of Denver for the eighth spot.
“That team is a good team that had been playing well,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone of the Lakers. “It was a hard-fought win, and I’m happy and proud of our guys.”
The game was a back-and-forth physical fight all night long. Just when it appeared the Nuggets would pull away a bit in the second quarter, the Lakers came roaring back. Just when it appeared the Lakers might build a significant advantage of their own, the Nuggets answered with timely shot-making and defensive stops.
The Nuggets trailed 100-96 with 10:13 to play in the fourth, but then went on a 19-10 spurt to give themselves a 115-110 advantage. The Lakers pulled back to within one before the Nuggets finally put them away. The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 31-20 in the fourth quarter.
Murray was clutch from the free throw line, going 6-for-6 in the fourth as part of his eight points in the period. He had a team-high 22 in the game to go along with eight assists and four steals.
“We’re playing for a playoff spot,” Murray said. “We just came off of two losses, two bad losses. We wanted to go out there and play with a little fire. And I guess the other team took it to heart.”
But the runaway stars for the Nuggets were the bigs – Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić. Each had 21 points in the game and both took turns making big offensive and defensive plays. Jokić added six rebounds, six assists and two steals to his total. Millsap added six rebounds and three blocks to his night.
“Starting to get my rhythm back,” Millsap said. “It was definitely my best game since being back.”
The Lakers were led by Brook Lopez’s 29 points. Lonzo Ball had 15 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and four steals.
But the night belonged to the Nuggets, who beat the Lakers for the second time this season and improved their home record to 25-10.
“We’ll see them one more time,” Malone said. “Luke Walton has done a terrific job with that team. That team plays hard and they compete.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter