Nikola Jokic scored 26 points, Jamal Murray had 15 of his 19 in the fourth quarter and the banged-up Denver Nuggets rallied past the equally banged-up Toronto Raptors 95-86 on Sunday night in a contest between conference leaders in Colorado.
Trailing 70-57 in the third quarter, the Nuggets went on a 23-2 run to send them to their 10th win in 12 games and retain a slim lead over Golden State in the Western Conference. This marks the latest the Nuggets (20-9) have been in first place in the West since Dec. 18, 1984, according to information by Elias Sports Bureau.
Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, who finished 2-2 on their trip. They still own the league’s best mark at 23-9.
Murray led the charge with eight straight points early in the fourth. The defense stepped up, too, as the Raptors didn’t score their first field goal in the final quarter until Leonard’s dunk with 7:42 remaining.
Toronto pulled to 86-83 with 3:28 left, but Mason Plumlee’s layup gave Denver some breathing room. The Raptors were 4 of 23 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 1 of 13 from 3-point land.
Both teams had several key players on the bench due to injuries. The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry (thigh), Pascal Siakam (back), Fred VanVleet (back) and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb).
The Nuggets didn’t have Will Barton (right hip/core muscle surgery), Gary Harris (hip) and Paul Millsap (big toe).
Not that Nuggets coach Michael Malone gave it much thought.
“Teams look at us right now with players out, and they think they can show up and beat us,” Malone said. “We’ve shown teams, `No, that’s not the case.’ We have more than enough players that are going to go out there and battle and compete.”
The Nuggets beat the Raptors 106-103 on Dec. 3 in Toronto. In that game, Jokic had 23 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds.
Jokic was a handful again. He also had nine rebounds.
Philadelphia 128, at Cleveland 105: Ben Simmons had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the season, Joel Embiid scored 24 points and the 76ers won in Jimmy Butler’s return.
Butler scored 19 points after missing two games — both losses — with a strained groin.
Landry Shamet added 16 points for Philadelphia, J.J. Redick had 14 points and Wilson Chandler 11.
Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson each scored 18 points for Cleveland. Rodney Hood and Matthew Dellavedova each had 13 points, and rookie point guard Collin Sexton added 12.
Miami 102, at New Orleans 96; Josh Richardson scored 22 points, Dwyane Wade added 19 in what was likely his final game in New Orleans, and Miami beat the Pelicans.
Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 12 rebounds in his matchup with Anthony Davis.
Davis had 27 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals, but curiously did not take his first shot of the second half until hitting a 3-pointer with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter.
Sacramento 120, at Dallas 113: Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox each scored 28 points and Sacramento ended Dallas’ 11-game home winning streak.
The Kings also spoiled the return of Dirk Nowitzki to the American Airlines Center. The 21-year veteran played his first home game after missing the first 26 games of the season while recovering from ankle surgery. He played six minutes at Phoenix on Thursday and scored three points in eight minutes Sunday.
Sacramento led for the entire second half, closing the third quarter on an 11-4 run to lead 93-83.
Luka Doncic had 28 points and nine assists, but no other Dallas player scored more than 15. DeAndre Jordan tied his season high with 23 rebounds but Dallas was hampered by poor 3-point shooting, making only 9 of 35 (26 percent).
at Indiana 110, New York 99: Victor Oladipo scored 26 points, Myles Turner had 24 and Indiana beat New York for its seventh straight victory.
Oladipo added eight rebounds and seven assists, while Turner finished with six rebounds and two blocks. He also halted the Knicks’ momentum on a fast break in the fourth quarter, sprinting across the court to disrupt Emmanuel Mudiay’s layup attempt that would have cut the Pacers’ lead to four points late in the game.
Enes Kanter finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 19 points and Mudiay finished with 18.
at Brooklyn 144, Atlanta 127: D’Angelo Russell scored 32 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 18 and Brooklyn beat Atlanta for its fifth straight victory.
Joe Harris had 16 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 15. The Nets have won five straight for the first time since March 25-April 2, 2015.
John Collins scored 29 points and Dewayne Dedmon had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Hawks. The have lost three straight and seven of eight.