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Jokic scores 40, Nuggets Extend Home Win Streak to 12
The Denver Nuggets came into Sunday night’s matchup as the only team in the NBA still with an unbeaten record in division and play, and left with its record still unblemished following a 116-113 win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The matchup featured Portland all-star point guard and Denver center Nikola Jokić, who’s vying to make his first all-star bid this season. Both gave the Pepsi Center crowd more than their money’s worth, leading their teams in scoring in a game between two squads in the top five of the Western Conference standings.
Each scored 13 in the first quarter and led their team in scoring, but it was The Joker who wound up winning the individual battle. Jokić finished with a double-double, going for a season-high 40 points on 15-for-23 shooting, going 4 of 7 from 3-point range, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 37 minutes. Lillard scored 26 and dished out seven assists in the loss.
“They tried playing him on 1-on-1 more than once and he was just having his way,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Jokic. “They went to a double-team he finds Malik (Beasley) for a 3. That’s what you love about Nikola Jokic. He’s always going to make the right play. He’s never going to force anything. If you want to play him 1-on-1, he’s going to have a chance of putting up big numbers.”
In a game that saw six lead changes in the first half, the Nuggets (29-13) looked to seize control of the contest when they went on a 15-3 run late in the third quarter. A corner 3-pointer from Will Barton gave Denver its biggest lead of the night at 93-83 with 36.9 seconds left in the quarter.
However, it only took the Blazers about three minutes of game time to retake the lead. They trimmed their deficit to five, heading into the fourth and went ahead 94-93 on a turnaround jumper from small forward Evan Turner with 10:25 remaining.
Jokić put his team ahead for good, breaking a 108-108 tie with a tough bucket in the lane with 1:07 to go followed by two clutch free throws a little more than 12 seconds later. Lillard swished in a late 3-pointer to pull his team within one but Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray knocked down two free throws with three seconds remaining before Lillard bricked an attempt at the buzzer for force overtime.
“This summer, when he signed that contract, I think he understood that heavy is the head that wears the crown,” Malone said of Jokic. There’s going to be much asked of him now that he’s our franchise player, and he hasn’t shyed away from that.”
Murray was second in scoring for the Nuggets, putting 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting while adding three assists and four rebounds. Malik Beasley contributed with 13 points. Paul Millsap had 11 and Monte Morris dropped 10 off the bench to help the Nuggets over to 2-0 on the season against Portland and extend their home win streak to 12 games.
Lillard’s backcourt mate shooting guard C.J. McCollum had a solid scoring night as well with 18 points followed by Jake Layman (13), Turner (13) and former Nugget Jusuf Nurkic (12).
The Nuggets host the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT. That game will be aired live on Altitude TV and streamed on AltitudeNOW.