Jokic scores 31, Nuggets beat Rockets 136-122

DENVER (AP) — Denver couldn’t stop James Harden’s scoring streak, but the Nuggets were able to end three years of frustration against the Houston Rockets.

Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, Malik Beasley had a career-high 35 points and the Nuggets beat Houston 136-122 on Friday night to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Rockets.

Harden scored 30 points to extend his streak to 25 games of scoring 30 or more points. He needed a late three-pointer to keep it going, and it came well after the game was in hand for Denver.

“He’s a great player, obviously one of the best scorers in the league, so to hold him to 30 after the way he’s playing, and we get the win, I’m not too disappointed,” Torrey Craig said.

Denver has won seven of its last eight overall and heads on a four-game trip at 36-15, the best start in the team’s NBA history.

Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic (L) goes up for a basket as Houston Rockets forward Kenneth Faried defends. – AP

“I think everybody thinks we were going to stop (winning),” Jokic said.

“Twenty games ago they thought, ‘Oh they’re going to lose,’ but we’re still winning.”

The Nuggets’ last win against Houston came on December 14, 2015, in Denver. The Rockets swept the season series twice and won the first two games this season.

“We knew we lost nine in a row to them and we knew we wanted to come out and beat them,” Beasley said.

Harden’s streak started with a 50-point night against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 13, and nearly ended on a tough shooting night for the reigning league MVP. He hit five of his first six shots and scored 15 points in the first quarter but then went cold. He missed 10 of his next 11 shots and also missed four free throws.

He was nine of 21 from the field and seven for 14 from three-point range in his lowest point output since scoring 29 against Portland on December 11.

“Some of them went in, some of them didn’t,” Harden said of his shots. “That’s basketball.”

His late flurry gave Houston some late life. He hit two three-pointers in the fourth quarter to pull Houston within nine points, but Jokic scored six straight points to put it away. Harden’s step-back three-pointer with 1:05 left gave him 30.

“I was trying real hard to stop him from getting 30,” said Craig, who had a career-high 22 points.

The Rockets scored 43 points in the first quarter and the Nuggets responded in the second with a 48-point outburst. They had 35 of those in the final 7:31, when they transformed a five-point deficit into an 83-71 lead at halftime.

Denver led by 20 in the third quarter, but the Rockets got within 11 late before the Nuggets pulled away.

Jokic is the first Nuggets player in nine years to be named to the All-Star game in nine seasons. Five straight seasons without making the playoffs was one reason, so being near the top of the Western Conference helped, as well as his eight triple-doubles.

“A big part of him being named an All-Star is the level we’ve been able to win at this season and him being the biggest part of that,” coach Michael Malone said.