Denver Nuggets 126, Oklahoma City Thunder 96: Three takeaways

The Nuggets’ late indecisiveness proved detrimental in their loss to the Wizards Thursday. Michael Malone’s team made sure there were no repeats in Oklahoma City, crushing the Thunder with an assertive 126-96 victory.

Denver saw its starting group take hold of the game from the first quarter and would not relent. The starters all scored in double-digits with Jamal Murray leading the way with a game-high 26 points. Nikola Jokić continued his MVP-caliber season with his eighth triple-double of this campaign, putting up 19 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds in just 30 minutes of action.

"I felt like tonight was Denver Nuggets basketball," Malone said after the win. "We played for each other." 

The Thunder were led by Darius Bazley, who had 22 points and four boards.

The Nuggets will now travel to Chicago to face the Bulls (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways:

Starters shine

Jokić and Murray have largely been on the top of their games in February, but the team was 5-7 in the month heading into Saturday’s game. Defense and the play of the rest of the starters have been part of the team’s inconsistency. In Oklahoma City, all of the starting five played a significant role in the Nuggets’ victory.

"I talked to our team about this morning, we have to be a team that's hard to guard," Malone said. "Everyone in that starting group was phenomenal." 

Will Barton III had one of his best outings of the season, dropping 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists on 50 percent shooting. Monte Morris added 13 points and three assists on 6 of 9 shooting. Both men also played a big part in slowing down Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was held to just 13 on 5-of-11.

"It just shows what kind of team we can be when we're locked in, focused and all on the same page," Barton III said. 

MPJ’s strong start

Another starter who stood out was Michael Porter Jr.

The second-year forward had been trending upward in his last two games and he wrapped up February on a strong note with a dominant first half against the Thunder.

Porter Jr. hit five of six three-pointers in the opening 24 minutes en route to an 18-point first half. He was also assertive on the glass, grabbing eight boards in that stretch.

With the game largely decided by the beginning of the third quarter, Porter Jr. wasn’t as impactful in the second half – playing just nine minutes. However, his strong start was the catalyst for the Nuggets’ dominance on the night. Porter Jr. finished the contest with his third straight double-double, putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think I have the capability to help this team on both sides of the floor," Porter Jr. said. "I'm just trying to get better and help my team on [the defensive] end. Stay locked in and not take any possessions off. Stay with the right energy for the entire 48." 

Ball movement and defense standout

The Nuggets got back to their brand of basketball on Saturday, focusing on their usual emphasis on spreading the ball around and keying in defensively. As a result, the Nuggets had 30 assists and held the Thunder to just 42 percent shooting overall – including just 23.4 percent from downtown.

Defensively, the Nuggets got a boost by the return of P.J. Dozier. The reserve guard had been sidelined for over a month with a right hamstring strain. While there were some clear signs of rust, Dozier made his presence felt almost immediately upon subbing in as he had a block on Isaiah Roby in the first quarter.

In the second half, Dozier got it going offensively and scored all nine of his points in the final 24 minutes on 3 of 6 shooting. It was a welcome return for the 24-year-old.

"It's great having a healthy P.J. Dozier back in the lineup," Malone said.