Denver Nuggets 128, Houston Rockets 99: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The streak is over!

The Nuggets (36-20) snapped an eight-game losing streak in Houston with a dominant 128-99 win over the struggling Rockets.

Houston (14-42) isn’t the powerhouse it was during the Mike D’Antoni-James Harden era, but Denver will still take some pride in ending a run that started way back in 2017.

"The challenge was simple, this game had nothing to do with the Houston Rockets, it was all about us and our approach," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. 

Nikola Jokić had another monster outing for the Nuggets, posting 29 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, and two steals while missing just two shots. Kelly Olynyk was the leading man for the Rockets, scoring 23 points and adding six boards.

The Nuggets are now 19-2 when they score 120 points or more and are riding back-to-back wins. They will now get a much-needed two-day break before looking for a third-straight win when they host the Grizzlies at Ball Arena Monday (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways: 

Most Valuable Player

While there might a well-known journalist who thinks otherwise, Jokić proved once again while he should be the front-runner for the league’s top player award.

The Serbian nearly had his 16th triple-double of the season in just 28 minutes of action. Equally as impressive, he was incredibly efficient in his scoring. He scored eight of his 10 made field goals in the paint and connected on a nearly 30-foot three-pointer to wrap up his night.

Jokić also played a big factor in the Nuggets’ dominance on the glass, grabbing 16 boards – including six on the offensive glass. Denver had an eye-catching 62-43 advantage on the boards. The team’s 18 offensive boards helped the group having 32 second-chance points on the night.

Finally, the center tied his fifth-most free-throw attempts in a game this season with nine. He converted eight of those.

"You talk about stats, his efficiency, it's historical-type numbers," Malone said of Jokić. "We're fortunate to have him...What I love about Nikola is talk about a selfless superstar, akin to a guy like Tim Duncan. A great player who just wants to win." 

Vintage Paul

Another big factor in the Nuggets controlling the glass was the performance of Paul Millsap, who had his second double-double of the season. The veteran big man finished with 11 points and 10 boards. It was a big response from Millsap, who had struggled with his shot recently.

Despite playing some solid defense in the last three games, Millsap had issues connecting on offense and knocked in just 21.4 percent during that stretch. On Friday, the 36-year-old was assertive from his first entry into the game and made some stunning drives to the basket.

"It's been a struggle just trying to figure it out," Millsap said of his new role. "[Tonight I tried] to get out there and just play my game [and] do everything I can to help this team win." 

Defensively, Millsap’s savvy remained crucial as the forward had two blocks in the contest.

Millsap wasn’t the only player to shine off the bench. JaMychal Green continues to quietly light up opponents from off the bench. Although he didn’t go to his trademark downtown shot, only taking one attempt, he feasted in the low post and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds on 6 of 8 shooting. Facundo Campazzo continued his trademark peskiness on defense and helped the Nuggets keep John Wall at bay. The Rockets star shot just 3 of 8 on Friday.

"I think Facu is first-team defense," Green boosted. "Not saying that just because he's my teammate, but I feel like he'll lock down anyone he's assigned to."

Free throw attempts vital

The Nuggets don’t take many free throws as a team, so to see the team take 31 attempts is a positive step. The team averages 19.2 free throws a night (28th in the league). Yes, the Rockets are the 14th team in the Western Conference but Denver’s approach Friday deserves praise.

Michael Malone’s team took 50 shots in the paint and converted on 31 and the constant attacking of the rim played a role. Outside of Jokić, Denver had three players with three or more free throw attempts (Millsap, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr.).

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