Nuggets maintain nice pace in victory
indianapolis» If only the Nuggets could play the Indiana Pacers each game, they’d be one of the best teams in the West.
Denver put up an impressive offensive performance against Indiana for the second time this season, this one a 125-117 win Friday on the Pacers’ home court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Since 2004, the Nuggets are 20-4 against Indiana.
Friday’s win was perhaps one of the biggest in the series for Denver (35-37), which is battling Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets hold a 1½ game lead over the Blazers, who were idle Friday. The teams meet Tuesday in Portland.
The Pacers, who never led and trailed by as many as 23, had no answer for The Joker. Nuggets second-year big man, Nikola Jokic had game-highs with 30 points and 17 rebounds, to go with five assists. No Nuggets player has produced a stat line surpassing those combined numbers in 33 years.
“It’s almost like you want to see what he does next,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “The guy is just a treat to watch and fun to play with. The scary thing is he’s only going to get better. For him to be playing at such a high level is a credit to him and his work ethic. This is a big win for us.”
Jokic was one of five Denver players in double figures. Wilson Chandler added 24 points. Gallinari (17-of-18 from the foul line) added 21 in his first game back after missing the previous four with a bruised
knee bone. Gary Harris and Will Barton each scored 10.
“We have so many good offensive players,” Jokic said. “I just want to do whatever I need to do to win the game — get rebounds, setting screens, assists, scoring, whatever.”
Denver looked like it would cruise to the win after Mason Plumlee’s two-handed stuff opened a 10481 lead with 9:02 left, but as per NBA custom, the Pacers made a run.
Paul George, who scored 27 to lead the Pacers, scored 16 in the quarter as Indiana pulled within five at 113-108 with 1:40 left, but Jokic buried a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, the Pacers turned it over, Jokic scored on a hook shot and the Nuggets hit enough free throws down the stretch to put the nail in the coffin.
“We have to understand when we have a lead, defense is key and you can’t give up eight threes in the fourth quarter,” Malone said. “Every game is a playoff game for us.”
Denver finished a blistering 40of-43 (93 percent) from the foul line compared with the Pacers’ 8-of-11.
Just as they did in their blowout win over Cleveland on Wednesday, the Nuggets were hot early. The NBA’s third highest-scoring team — at 111.5 points per game coming into the contest — Denver poured in 34 points in the first quarter on 70 percent shooting and didn’t slow down much in the second, taking a 64-53 lead into the half. They cooled in the second half and finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field.
The Nuggets blew out Indiana (36-36) in their only other meeting this season — a dominating 140-112 performance Jan. 12.
“That’s a big win for us on the road, and coming off a pretty good game against the Cavaliers,” Chandler said. “We came out and were just aggressive again.”
Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee shoots over Indiana Pacers center Lavoy Allen during Friday night’s game in Indianapolis. The Nuggets won 125-117, improving their record to 35-37. R Brent Smith, The Associate Press
Pacers center Myles Turner fouls Nuggets guard Jamal Murray during the second half of Denver’s 125-117 victory Friday night in Indianapolis. R Brent Smith, The Associated Press