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Cavs Get Big Night From LeBron James in Win Over Nuggets
These moments can be heavy moments.
The Nuggets left the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night with work to do in the Western Conference playoff race. They left on the outside, looking in with 17 games to play after LeBron James sealed the Cavs 113-108 victory over the Nuggets in a game that went down to the wire.
“We can’t afford to drop too many more,” guard Gary Harris said. “I feel like every game is a must-win. That’s why we can’t drop games like we did last night, but it’s over, in the past, we move forward.”
It was the second straight loss for the Nuggets, who, at 35-30 are tied with the Utah Jazz for ninth, though the Nuggets so far own the tiebreaker, keeping them just a step away from getting right back into the top eight. The L.A. Clippers, who were idle on Wednesday, moved into the eighth spot by virtue of owning the tiebreaker over the Nuggets.
But there is still a lot of basketball to be played.
Bouncing back against the Cleveland Cavaliers was always going to be a tough ask. The Cavs, who had been sitting in Denver for a day, were waiting for the Nuggets who flew in after a tough loss at Dallas on Tuesday night.
“They were fresh,” Malone said. “No excuses, but back-to-back for us and they came out and jumped on us.”
And, in the end, those fresher legs mattered. James, who five days earlier watched the Nuggets go into Cleveland and win, made one big time shot after another down the stretch on Wednesday. He scored the last nine Cavaliers points.
The fourth quarter was a street fight. Will Barton tied the game at 91 with 9:40 remaining. The Nuggets took their first lead of the contest soon thereafter. From there, neither team was willing to give an inch. The lead changed hands. Neither squad held more than a four-point advantage for a while. The crowd buzzed through it all.
But James made a long jumper with 9.5 seconds remaining, it proved to be the dagger. It put the cap on his 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds and sealed the Cavaliers victory. The Nuggets stepped out of bounds on their next possession, and that was that.
“He showed again why he’s one of the best players to play the game,” Malone said.
Meanwhile, Nikola Jokić got right back to putting big numbers on the board. He paced the Nuggets offense with 36 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the most efficient manner possible – going 12-of-14 from the field.
“I thought he was great,” Malone said. “That’s the Nikola that we need. Very aggressive. I called his number quite a bit, and he delivered for us.”
Jokić packed a game’s worth of statistics into the third quarter alone. He had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. Jokic said the team would “rather have the win” than his point total, still Jokic was solid – and efficient – on the court.
“Everybody is talking playoff, playoff, playoff, but we need to think about the next game,” Jokić said. “That’s all that matters.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter