LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic delivered his season-best 14th triple double with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists on Sunday to lead Denver over Brooklyn 124-104.
The 26-year-old centre also sparked a defensive effort from the Nuggets that kept the Nets to a season-low 29 second-half points as Brooklyn’s road losing streak reached eight games.
“In the second half, we knew we had to step up on defence because that is how we would win the game,” Jokic said.
The Nuggets led 76-75 at halftime then dominated from there, with the Serbian hitting 12-of-15 from the floor while adding two steals and a blocked shot.
“We took it upon ourselves to go out there and get the job done,” Denver’s Will Barton said.
“We know if we want to make a deep playoff run, it starts on the defensive end.”
Jokic said the triple doubles come naturally in the flow of the games.
“I’m just trying to play a game,” Jokic said. “When I pass, I pass to the right guy to make a basketball play.
“It doesn’t matter if I get 15, 20 shots. I share the ball and when bodies are moving we’re hard to guard and tonight was a night like that.”
Barton contributed 21 points, six rebounds and four assists as the Nuggets, sixth in the Western Conference at 29-24, snapped a three-game losing skid.
“Any time you can get a win on your home court, especially after a losing streak, it’s a big deal,” Barton said.
“For us to be where we’re at, we’ll take it, but we’re not satisfied. We just have to stay consistent and we’ll be fine.”
The Nuggets have struggled with injuries to standouts Michael Porter and Jamal Murray, but Barton said Jokic has helped pick up the slack.
“With two of our main guys down, he’s keeping us afloat and still doing great numbers,” Barton said of Jokic.
“He’s the best player in the league right now. He can do it all, pass it, score it in the post, shoot threes. And I think he has stepped it up defensively this year and also being a vocal leader for us.”
The Nets, who fell to 29-24, were led by 27 points from Kyrie Irving, who cannot play in home games under New York’s coronavirus rules because he is unvaccinated.
Brooklyn has also been hampered by injuries to stars Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Nets coach Steve Nash said the team is not intending to trade Harden as rumours swirled – ahead of Thursday’s NBA deadline – that Brooklyn might send him to Philadelphia in exchange for unhappy Australian guard Ben Simmons, who has not played all season. “I’ve talked to James,” Nash said. “James wants to be here. He wants to be here long-term as well… we think we have the best chance to win with James.”
Joel Embiid scored 40 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to power the Philadelphia 76ers over the host Chicago Bulls 119-108. It was the seventh time this season Embiid had reached the 40-point mark.
DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 45 points in a losing cause for the Bulls, who were without Zach LaVine for a second straight game due to back tightness.
The Bulls fell to 33-20, just behind Miami (34-20) for the best record in the Eastern Conference while the Sixers improved to 32-21 for fourth. As a result of Chicago’s loss, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was named the coach of Team Durant in the NBA All-Star Game on February 20 in Cleveland.
His squad will face a team captained by former Cleveland star LeBron James and coached by Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns. Minnesota had 24 points and 12 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns, 22 points from D’Angelo Russell and 20 off the bench from Malik Beasley in a 118-105 victory over visiting Detroit.