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    Jokic returns with triple-double, Nuggets top Pelicans 99-98

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Nikola Jokic said he could still feel a slight difference between the injured left hamstring that sidelined him for two games and his healthy one when he returned to Denver’s lineup.

    Not that it stopped him from notching his 15th triple-double of the season, or hindered his ability to produce in the clutch.

    Jokic capped a 25-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist performance with a go-ahead floater in the paint with 16.9 seconds left, and the Nuggets escaped with a 99-98 victory over the undermanned Pelicans early yesterday.

    “I’m just playing the game,” Jokic said when asked about his all-around production. “I’m glad I found open teammates. I actually made the last basket. I’m just glad that we won the game. Individual awards don’t really matter.”

    Jokic said his lingering hamstring tightness is “not something major. So, hopefully it’s going to be good”.

    Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic shoots over New Orleans Pelicans centre Willy Hernangomez. PHOTO: AP

    Jokic sneaked into the paint for his winning shot after two defenders gravitated to Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who then passed to Denver’s seven-foot super star about seven feet in front of the basket.

    “That’s my sweet spot,” Jokic said. “I’m really comfortable shooting from there.”

    Murray scored 25 points for the Nuggets, who led for nearly the entire game and by as many as 19 points before New Orleans stormed back in the fourth quarter to take its only lead of the second half at 98-97 with 36.9 seconds left.

    After Jokic put Denver back in front, the Pelicans had three shots to win it before losing their fifth straight.

    McCollum’s missed turnaround was rebounded by Pelicans forward Herb Jones, whose putback was blocked out of bounds by Bruce Brown.

    After a timeout, the Pelicans got the ball to McCollum for a corner three that clanged off the rim, leaving him zero for eight from deep on an otherwise productive, 20-point night.

    “CJ got open, got a clean look at it,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Just didn’t go down.”

    Trailing 79-63 with 4:40 left in the third quarter, the Pelicans surged back with the help of six-foot point guard Jose Alvarado, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the last 13 minutes with an array of crowd-pleasing driving floaters and layups.

    Alvardo’s exploits caused Denver coach Mike Malone to disgustedly call three timeouts in the final period.

    “Alvarado was just living in the paint,” Malone said. “There were definitely some breakdowns there.”

    Other than that, Malone was pleased with Denver’s defence, particularly beyond the three-point line, where the Pelicans made just five of 26 shots.

    “To hold a team to 98 points in today’s NBA, that doesn’t happen very often,” Malone said. “To win a game by one point on the road against a very desperate team, we’ll take it.”

    Jokic wound up playing 36 minutes, hitting 11 of 14 shots, including two from deep.

    He scored 11 points in the first quarter. Denver’s lead grew to 15 early in the second quarter, thanks to a 13-0 run during which Murray hit a three, a turnaround fade and a driving layup.

    Murray scored 16 points in the second quarter, including an alley-oop jam of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s fast-break lob after his interception of McCollum’s pass.

    By halftime, Murray had 19 points and Denver led 63-47.

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