Nikola Jokic detonated Washington’s interior defense and left a hole so big the entire Nuggets roster could fit through it.
Jokic erupted for a season-high 43 points on 17-of-20 shooting, pacing Denver for a raucous 141-128 victory over the Wizards. En route to their third consecutive win, the Nuggets racked up 98 points in the paint, an unheard of total even for an offensive juggernaut like Denver.
Now 17-10 on the season, Denver will face the Lakers on Friday and attempt to extend their winning streak on the road.
Jokic managed 14 rebounds and eight assists in addition to his scoring, thwarting Monte Morris and Will Barton’s chance at revenge in their first game back in Denver since being traded this summer. Morris had 20 points and seven assists, while Barton added 22 points and nine assists off the bench.
Aaron Gordon chipped in 22 to aid the interior assault, and Bones Hyland scored 23. Almost all of it was necessary as Denver’s defense was underwhelming again. It didn’t even matter that Washington was missing Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis to injury. The Nuggets, as is their nasty habit, played down to the undermanned Wizards.
Michael Porter Jr. watched the festivities from the bench dressed in black sweats. It was the 10th consecutive game he’s missed with a heel strain, but Nuggets coach Michael Malone assured he was on the mend. A relatively rigorous shooting competition against several of his teammates Wednesday morning served as evidence.
When the third quarter came, Jokic decided he was done watching Barton and Morris seize their homecoming. He bludgeoned Washington’s inadequate frontcourt and ran their transition defense through a paper shredder. Of the Nuggets’ first 19 points in the third quarter, Jokic scored 15 of them. On the other two baskets, he served up the assists.
His pinpoint, transition look to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope split two Washington defenders and led his shooting guard to pay-dirt for the slickest assist of the night. But Washington’s bench didn’t relent once Jokic went to the bench. Denver entered the fourth up 102-95, which wasn’t close to the margin Jokic deserved after dominating to start the second half.
Jokic’s assertiveness was crucial as Jamal Murray remained stuck in neutral all night.
In his previous two games, Murray had amassed 51 points as his rhythm and timing slowly crept back to pre-injury levels. But, as evidenced by Wednesday’s slow first half, inconsistencies should still be expected.
“He’s not going to be great every night until probably later on in the season, maybe that’s the case,” Malone said prior to the game. “I think he’s definitely found that rhythm, and discipline is a great word, just committing to his shot. If it’s not there, getting off the ball, not forcing things. Always taking what the defense gives you.”
He played a relatively inconsequential first half, as the Nuggets held a precarious 72-67 lead over the Wizards at the break. Collectively, Denver’s defensive effort was abysmal. Washington shot better from 3-point range (58%) than it did from the field (56%) in the first half. Morris and Barton relished their moments.
Malone praised all that both players had done in helping to build a foundation of respectability in Denver.
Following tribute videos for both players, Morris soaked it in near the Nuggets’ bench after drawing a shooting foul on a made 3-pointer. Later, Barton found himself taking heat-check looks after pacing the Wizards with 17 points and seven assists in the first half.
The only saving grace was Denver’s dominance inside. The Nuggets blasted the Wizards for 52 points in the paint over the first two quarters, leaning heavily on Jokic’s devastating finishes and Gordon’s brute strength. But this was another instance of Denver’s offense carrying, while its defense languished in its shadow.