The Nuggets proved their trademark resilience with an assured 123-106 victory over the Miami Heat at Ball Arena.
Just a day after learning Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL injury that will keep him out indefinitely, Denver seemingly rallied to put up one of its most complete victories in front of its fans.
Nikola Jokić powered through for his 15th triple-double of the season, putting up 17 points, 11 assists, and 10 boards against the Heat. Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 21 points and six boards on 7 of 16 shooting.
The Nuggets ran an incredibly efficient offense Wednesday night, shooting 47.2 percent from three while also dishing out 33 assists to just 10 turnovers. More impressively, Denver’s transition defense only allowed seven points off those giveaways. A strong bounce-back for a team that had struggled in that area during its two-game losing streak.
"I liked how we played tonight," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I just felt like there was joy in how we played. We just had guys who looked like they were having fun and that was one of my challenges to our guys today, even before Jamal had gone down with that injury, I just felt like there was not a lot of joy in Mudville, and you can't play like that; you can't coach like that and tonight, I felt like we got back to playing our brand of basketball, unselfish, playing for each other."
Malone’s team will now turn its attention to its trip to Houston, where they face the struggling Rockets Friday (6 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Murray has developed into a charismatic leader in the Nuggets locker room and proved time-to-time his ability to deliver in the clutch. The Nuggets’ faithful showed their appreciation for the lead guard following news of his injury. Before tip-off, fans at Ball Arena burst into loud applause each time Murray was shown on the scoreboard.
On the court, the Nuggets appeared to have a point to prove: They still aim to contend. The group shared the ball and saw eight players with eight or more points on the night. The team also hit an incredible 17 threes. Lastly, the team was strong on the glass, where they outmuscled Miami with a 43-30 advantage.
"This was how we need to play. Jamal Murray is not coming back. So, we realize that, and other guys have to step up and tonight, we had a lot of guys who did that," Malone said.
"We kind of had that next man up mentality," PJ Dozier added. "We have one Jamal Murray, and nobody is going to try to implement him. We're going to try to be the best versions of ourselves and take care of business that way."
Big three show out
Aaron Gordon showed increased comfort in the Nuggets’ offense Wednesday and it paid dividends for Malone’s team.
Gordon, who had been averaging nine points in his last three games, responded with a strong 16-point and nine-rebound outing. The recently acquired Nuggets’ forward shot 7 of 11 and added three dimes on the night. Gordon likely could have had more of the latter tally and had some impressive passes on the night. This is a performance Gordon and the Nuggets can build, especially as they try to replace some of the production lost with Murray’s injury.
Gordon was joined by strong outings from Michael Porter Jr. and Jokić. Porter Jr. continues a sizzling run from his end as the forward dropped 25 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-14 shooting. It is his 15th double-double of the season. The second-year forward is shooting 53.5 percent in April and is averaging 21.6 points per game during that stretch. Despite little buzz, Porter Jr. should be considered for Most Improved Player, especially considering the forward has raised his scoring by eight points and rebounds by 3.1 per game.
"Just try to be a presence out there that they can rely on. If they need a basket, or just need to give the ball to someone at the end of the shot clock to get a shot up," Porter Jr. said. "There's no replacing Jamal, but I try to do my part to help,"
Bench steps up
The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league and in order to keep to their ambitions, the bench will need to finish the season on a strong note. On Wednesday, the unit showed it was up to the task.
The reserves outscored Miami’s bench 48-34 with Dozier and JaMychal Green being the catalysts. Dozier was a two-way threat Wednesday evening, swiping three steals and dishing four dimes to go along with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting. Green got hot from downtown, hitting four of his five three-point attempts en route to 17 points.