Jo­kic fu­els fourth in row

Bar­ton also helps Den­ver ex­tend its lead in the race for the eighth play­off spot.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

Ur­gency seems to be fit­ting the Nuggets like a well-tai­lored suit.

With the race for the fi­nal play­off spot in the Western Con­fer­ence tight­en­ing and the re­main­ing sched­ule in­ten­si­fy­ing, Den­ver has picked a good time to start play­ing some of its best bas­ket­ball.

Nikola Jo­kic tal­lied his fifth triple-dou­ble of the sea­son and Will Bar­ton scorched the nets for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game to lead the Nuggets to a 129-114 vic­tory over the Los Angeles Clip­pers on Thurs­day night, Den­ver’s sea­son­high fourth win in a row.

The Nuggets are now 2K games ahead of Port­land in the race for the eighth play­off spot in the West.

But the coach of this sud­denly surg­ing team wasn’t pleased with the warts that came with the lat­est vic­tory.

“I think it’s a win and we’ll take it,” Michael Malone said. “I thought our de­fense was aw­ful, to be very hon­est.”

Im­prove­ment on the de­fen­sive end since the all-star break has given way to a higher stan­dard, and Malone called Thurs­day’s ef­fort a step back after Den­ver gave up 68 points in the sec­ond half. Still, he didn’t dis­count an of­fense that has made the Nuggets dif­fi­cult to han­dle dur­ing their long­est win­ning streak of the sea­son.

The Nuggets took ad­van­tage of the Clip­pers rest­ing all-star big men DeAn­dre Jor­dan and Blake Grif­fin by run­ning things through their own bur­geon­ing front­court tan­dem of Jo­kic and Ma­son Plum­lee.

Den­ver was with­out its own start­ing for­wards, Danilo Gal­li­nari and Wil­son Chan­dler, but Jo­kic and Plum­lee kept the of­fense hum­ming with their usual blend of post scor­ing and crisp fa­cil­i­tat­ing, which helped the Nuggets shoot 53.5 per­cent.

Jo­kic fin­ished with 17 points, 14 re­bounds and 11 as­sists. His five triple-dou­bles are the fourth-most in the NBA this sea­son be­hind Rus­sell West­brook (34), James Har­den (17) and LeBron James (10), and Den­ver is 5-0 when he stuffs the stat sheet to that de­gree.

“A lot of times when teams go small, coaches will ad­just to a small lineup,” Plum­lee said. “I thought our coach showed a lot of con­fi­dence by play­ing big. We took ad­van­tage of the paint.”

Plum­lee flirted with a triple­dou­ble him­self, fin­ish­ing with 10 points, 10 re­bounds and six as­sists, con­tin­u­ing to form chem­istry along­side Jo­kic.

But it was Bar­ton, emerg­ing from a deep of­fen­sive slump by let­ting it fly, who lit a fuse for the Nuggets. When he en­tered the game off the bench with five min­utes left in the first quar­ter, the Nuggets led 15-13. Bar­ton didn’t leave the court again un­til the half­time buzzer, hav­ing sparked Den­ver to a 59-46 lead.

Bar­ton scored 15 of his ca­reer­high 35 points on 6-of-10 shoot­ing in that 17-minute span. It was a re­peat of his high-scor­ing flurry against the Los Angeles Lak­ers on Mon­day, when he scored 19 of his 22 points in the first half.

Gary Har­ris added 20 points. He and Bar­ton com­bined to hit 10-of15 shots from 3-point range, part of a 15-of-28 per­for­mance (56 per­cent) by the Nuggets.

Ken­neth Faried, mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance since suf­fer­ing a back in­jury on Feb. 24, had 12 points and six re­bounds.

“I’m just happy to be back out there with those guys and go­ing to war ev­ery night,” Faried said.

Chris Paul had 18 points and 14 as­sists for the Clip­pers, who dropped their third straight. J.J. Redick scored 22 points. His 3pointer with 10:11 left in the third quar­ter helped the Clip­pers trim their 15-point deficit to 61-55. The Nuggets ex­ploded from there and inched an­other step to­ward the post­sea­son.

Gary Har­ris, driv­ing to the bas­ket Thurs­day, con­trib­uted 20 points to Den­ver’s 129-114 win over the Clip­pers. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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