Denver Nuggets 114, Sacramento Kings 119: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Nikola Jokić had the best scoring night of his young career, but it wasn’t enough to help the Nuggets overcome a spate of injuries as they lost 119-114 to the Kings in Sacramento.

Nikola Jokić poured in a career-high 50 points to go along with a near triple-double with 12 assists and eight rebounds. The center also added three blocks in a dominant night. As good as he was, he wasn’t able to get much scoring help and a significant part was due to missing personnel. Jamal Murray and Facundo Campazzo were late scratches for the Nuggets, adding to an injury list that also has Gary Harris, PJ Dozier, and Greg Whittington.

Harrison Barnes continued his recent success against the Nuggets, putting up 28 points on 10 of 16 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. Prior to Saturday’s game, the Kings’ veteran swingman averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists against the Nuggets this season.

"[This loss] wasn't for a lack of effort," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "You just have to be able to guard as consistently and as close to 48 minutes as possible. We just had a few key breakdowns down the stretch that you can't afford to have in a close game on the road. So I love the effort, love the fight, [we were] undermanned. 

The Nuggets have lost their last two games and three consecutive games against the Kings. They will hope a return to Ball Arena Monday will give them a boost, especially with a tough team in the building in the Bucks (6:30 p.m., ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways

Joker bounces back

Jokić had a quiet night by his standards in Los Angeles, putting 13 points, nine boards, and six assists on 37.5 percent shooting against the Lakers. On Saturday, he became the first Nugget since Carmelo Anthony in 2011 to drop 50 points in a game.

The Nuggets’ all-world center got rolling early putting up 10 points and six assists in the first quarter. He would not let up.

Hoping to help the Nuggets overcome their recent struggles in the third quarter, Jokić dropped 13 points and five assists in the quarter on 5 of 10 shooting. He was unreal in the final 12 minutes, adding an incredible 23 points to close the game on 10 of 13 shooting – including hitting 3 of 4 from downtown.

"His approach, his mindset, his leadership [were all impressive]," Malone said. "He knew we were undermanned...He understood how important this game was and you have to love that about him. He never makes any excuses." 

Jokić is the first center in the three-point era to notch 50 points and 10-plus assists in a game. He is also the first player in the position to accomplish the feat in franchise history.

"We had a couple of the young guys in the game so I tried to help them a little bit," Jokić said. "I think in the last quarter, I was just aggressive" 

R.J. gets his shot

R.J. Hampton has averaged just 3.3 minutes per game this season, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has made a concerted effort to find opportunities for the 2020 first-rounder.

With Denver dealing with four rotation players out of the mix, Hampton got a chance at extended minutes. He showed some promise in his stint, finishing with a team-high in boards with 10, along with seven points and two dimes in 27 minutes.

"My approach was to play hard," Hampton explained. "Go play hard, play defense, do the little things that keep you on the court." 

The former New Zealand Breaker is still raw, with the first-year guard missing a few easy opportunities, but his athleticism and energy are proving to be positive. His ability to bounce and scrap for the ball provided advantageous in his work on the glass and he made a few solid defensive plays throughout the game.

"There's two positions in basketball, on the court and off the court," Hampton said. "If coach needs me to play defense, then that's what I'm going to do...When the opportunity presents itself, you got to go out and execute." 

Help needed

While the personnel issues can’t be ignored, this was a winnable game for Denver and unfortunately, some offensive struggles and defensive lapses proved costly for the team.

Outside of Jokić, only Paul Millsap scored more than 11 and shot more than 50 percent. Even more concerning was the effort on the defensive end.

After holding the Kings to 33 percent from downtown in the first half, the Nuggets couldn’t replicate those efforts in the final 24 minutes. Sacramento scored 66 points in the second half and was able to hit nine threes in the process. The home team shot 45 percent in the second half. The Kings had four players with 20 or more points in Barnes, De’Aaron Fox, Richaun Holmes, and Tyrese Haliburton. The Nuggets needed more of a team effort on both sides to get past that output.

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