DENVER (The Sports Xchange) – The Denver Nuggets’ failed experimented with two centers together at the start of the season led to Jusuf Nurkic being shipped to Portland.
The man he was traded for has made it work with Nikola Jokic, and now Denver is starting to roll.
Nikola Jokic had 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, Will Barton hit seven 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 35 points, and the Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 129-114 on Thursday night for their fourth straight win.
Fellow big man Mason Plumlee also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and Gary Harris scored 20 for Denver (33-35), which won despite playing without two starters.
Danilo Gallinari (left knee bruise) and Wilson Chandler (right groin strain) were out, but Kenneth Faried returned from a nine-game absence due to back spasms. Faried scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 18 minutes.
Faried’s jump hook that gave Denver an 86-72 lead late in the third quarter gave Jokic his 10th assist. Jokic has five triple-doubles for the season, all since Feb. 3.
“I just take what the game gives me,” Jokic said. “I score a couple of times, then they start to double me so you pass away. It’s an easy game. You take what the game gives you.”
Faried came off the bench, which gave Plumlee the chance to start alongside Jokic. That formula didn’t work with Nurkic, but the 6-foot-11 Plumlee has blended seamlessly with Denver’s young star and came within two assists of also notching a triple-double.
“He just wants to win and wants to do stuff that other players don’t want to do,” Jokic said. “He’s wants to share the ball and play together.”
Chris Paul had 18 points and 14 assists, J.J. Redick scored 22 and Austin Rivers added 17 for Los Angeles, which was also short-handed.
The Clippers (40-29) lost their third straight leading up to a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night. Thursday’s setback was explained, in part, by the absence of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The two big men were left back in Los Angeles for rest after the Clippers’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
“I don’t know what to expect from this team anymore,” Redick said. “We’re in a bad place right now, losing games. We’ve been (bad) since the All-Star break.”
The Clippers are three games behind Utah for the fifth seed and are now just a game ahead of Oklahoma City for the sixth seed after falling to 4-6 in March.
“You knew this was going to be a hard month,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s the hardest month I’ve seen. There’s nothing you can do about it and we’re not done with it. We just have to get through it. It is what it is.”
Denver has enjoyed home cooking in March and is taking advantage of it to stay two games ahead of Portland for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. It’s the first playoff chase the Nuggets are in since 2013 and the players are embracing it.
“I can’t lie, we see it,” Barton said. “We score watch a little bit but the main thing is we focus on us. If we win our games it doesn’t matter what anybody else does.”
The Nuggets led 59-46 at halftime, but Los Angeles made it a game early in the third quarter. Denver answered, and after Faried’s hook, two more dunks and a free throw gave the Nuggets a 91-72 advantage with 2:53 left in the third.
Barton hit two 3-pointers and was fouled on another attempt. He sank all three free throws to give Denver a 103-80 lead.
The margin grew to 25 in the fourth and stayed in double digits the rest of the way. Barton capped the night with his seventh 3-pointer, which tied a career high.
It was his second straight strong game after a prolonged slump.
“The team needed me to step up and that’s all I wanted to do,” Barton said. “We know what we’re trying to get to, trying to make that push so all I’m focused on is doing whatever I’ve got to do to win games.”
NOTES: Denver F Wilson Chandler (right groin) and F Danilo Gallinari (left knee bone bruise) had MRIs that revealed no structural damage. Coach Michael Malone said he doesn’t expect them to miss a lot of time, and that it is about being able to manage the pain. … Clippers C DeAndre Jordan missed his first game of the season while F Blake Griffin has missed 21 games, 19 for his right knee and twice to rest. … The Nuggets have used their 28th different starting lineup, which is tops in the NBA.