Jokic fuels fourth in row
Barton also helps Denver extend its lead in the race for the eighth playoff spot.
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