An effortless 41-point, 12-rebound, five-assist, performance by Nikola Jokic powered the Denver Nuggets past an undermanned Brooklyn Nets team 112-104 who had just gone toe-to-toe with the Phoenix Suns Monday night.
Brooklyn got their first road win of the year — a 98-92 victory in Phoenix 24 hours earlier — arrived in Denver early Tuesday morning, didn’t hold shootaround and were without three regular rotation players in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, and Jarrett Allen. The Nets inserted one-time Colorado Buffalo Spencer Dinwiddie into their starting lineup for his homecoming and played seldom-used reserves Sean Kilpatrick and Jacob Wiley significant minutes.
Jokic took full advantage.
The 22-year-old dominated Denver’s offensive flow from the opening tip, scored eight points in the first quarter, poured in 13 more before halftime and finished with a new career-high 41 — one point more than he scored in Madison Square Garden last season against the Knicks.
The career-high prompted M.V.P. chants from the Pepsi Center crowd.
“That was funny, why so serious?” Jokic asked from his locker after the game.”
Jokic scored from the block, mid-range and went 4-9 from distance. While his scoring prowess around the hoop and mid-range is well known, it’s his three-point shot that’s been a revelation this season.
“I kind of felt good tonight,” Jokic said. “So I just wanted to try my luck.”
“What can he not do? He can’t jump very high that’s one thing he cannot do,” Nuggets coach Malone said. “But he’s ultra-skilled the way he’s been shooting the ball this year from three-point range has been magnificent.”
“Obviously, he’s a hell of a player,” Malone continued. “And I’m going to stop saying he’s a hell of a young player because I don’t care how old he is, Nikola Jokic is one of the better players in the NBA.”
After shooting just 32.4 percent from deep last year, Jokic has seen his percentage jump more than ten points through 11 games.
An emphasis coming into Denver’s matchup with Brooklyn was turnovers, which have been a pain in Malone’s side all season. On the year, Denver has given up 21.2 points a night off turnovers — the second-highest mark in the league. Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Emmanuel Mudiay were all averaging over two turnovers per game prior to Tuesday night.
The epidemic prompted Malone to call a “State of the Union” meeting with his players Tuesday morning where he asked, “at some point, when is enough enough? When are we going to stop beating ourselves?” Malone credited two of the Nuggets’ early season losses — in Utah on opening night and against Washington a few days later — to turnovers.
Denver’s effort on that front wasn’t that much better against Brooklyn. The Nuggets finished with 19 turnovers, quite a few more than their season-average of 15.3 per game.
“We committed 19 (turnovers) for 24 points, which is what I said this morning, is one of the three areas of most concern,” Malone said.
But although it wasn’t the prettiest win, Denver’s offense still produced. After a slow start, the Nuggets finished with a healthy 114 points, albeit against a tired and undermanned Nets’ squad.
Millsap finished with 17 points on 7-11 shooting and Will Barton also tallied 17 points, 13 of which came in the first half. No other Nuggets’ player finished in double-figures.