DENVER (AP)Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds in his 80th career triple-double, and the Denver Nuggets held off the undermanned Utah Jazz 115-110 on Saturday night.
Jamal Murray added 30 points for the Nuggets, who scored the final five to finally put away a Utah team missing four of its top six scorers.
”If you want to guard him 1-on-1, he’s going to score,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Jokic. ”If you want to double-team him and put two on him, he’s going to find the open man. Now, the question becomes, `Can we make the open shot?”’
Against the Jazz, Denver regularly knocked down those shots, making 54.7% of its field goals. It was the seventh consecutive game in which the Nuggets shot at least 50% from the floor.
Making his second start of the season, Nickeil Alexander-Walker had a season-high 27 points for the Jazz, who lost for the eighth time in 11 games after a surprising 12-6 start.
The score was tied at 110 when Jokic found an open Bruce Brown cutting into the lane for a dunk with 1:20 remaining. Jokic hit one of two free throws with 9.1 seconds left to make it 113-110, and Alexander-Walker airballed a 3-pointer with five seconds to go.
Murray sank two free throws on the other end to seal the victory.
”I think when you face a team that doesn’t have all the firepower, you kind of just relax, naturally,” Murray said. ”Offensively, it was easy for everybody .not easy, but we got what we wanted, so we got a little lax on defense. It’s just keeping that mental focus.”
Utah scored just 20 points in the fourth quarter while missing 14 of its 22 shots.
It was Jokic’s fourth triple-double this season and it marked the third time the Nuggets had multiple players score at least 30 points – a feat they never achieved last season.
Lauri Markkanen (illness) and Mike Conley Jr. (injury management) didn’t make the trip to Denver, while Jordan Clarkson (bruised right hip) and Collin Sexton (right hamstring strain) were out with injuries for the Jazz. The quartet is averaging a combined 66.9 points per game, and Conley is averaging a team-high 7.8 assists.
Given the state of Utah’s roster, Nuggets coach Michael Malone admitted the matchup scared him, believing his team’s maturity would be tested against a lesser version of its opponent.
His concerns proved to be prescient.
Denver built a nine-point halftime lead after shooting 61.4% from the field. It was one of four instances in the first three quarters in which the Nuggets led by at least seven, but each time the Jazz came back either to tie the score or get within a single possession.
”These games scare the hell out of you because you know the guys that can play are going to leave everything on the floor, not looking over their shoulder,” Malone said. ”They’re just going to play. We saw that tonight. Any win in this league is a good win. Yes, we have to clean some things up, but 16-10 is a hell of a lot better than 15-11. We’ll take it.”
Jazz: F Simone Fontecchio also didn’t make the trip to Denver. The rookie from Italy is averaging 4.8 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Nuggets: Malone left the game briefly with an ailing back, and assistant David Adelman coached in his absence. After being tended to in the locker room, Malone returned in the second quarter.
Jazz: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
Nuggets: Host the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
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