When Nikola Jokic secured his NBA-leading 13th triple-double late in the third quarter, it felt like just another Tuesday.
A quarter later, when the Nuggets secured their seventh win a row with a 122-113 victory over the visiting Trail Blazers, it felt like just another night at Ball Arena. The only difference about this win is that it came with assistant coach David Adelman manning the sidelines as head coach Michael Malone entered health and safety protocols earlier in the day.
It didn’t much matter who was calling the plays, as Denver’s scorching offense picked apart the Blazers for 32 assists.
The Nuggets’ latest win marked their 14th in a row at home, where they improved to 20-3 in front of their fans.
Those fans serenaded Jokic with “MVP” chants as he put the finishing touches on his 36-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. When he checked out for the final time, the fans behind the Nuggets’ bench gave him a standing ovation.
As if the numbers weren’t gaudy enough, Jokic misfired on just one of his fourteen shots all night.
Now 31-13 overall, Denver will turn around and host Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Michael Porter Jr. poured in 23 points with four 3-pointers, and Jamal Murray added 17 with seven assists. The Nuggets needed their supporting cast while Damian Lillard caught fire for 44, but aside from Jerami Grant, his help wasn’t there.
The Nuggets ripped it open as soon as they buckled down on defense. As Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shadowed Lillard all over the court, Denver’s offense took off on the other end. Jokic, serving as the air traffic controller, tread a ruthless path through Portland’s defense while distributing the ball to his shooters. Jokic routinely found Porter, who was open as a result of the MVP’s gravity. Murray, Denver’s other stalwart, found two quick 3-pointers to start the quarter of his own.
Combined, it was a relentless display of offense that left Jokic with another triple-double and 1:41 still left in the third quarter. Once it was over, and the Blazers managed just 22 points, Denver had a 101-89 lead heading into the fourth.
Adelman said he found out the news on Malone prior to Tuesday’s shootaround and had all day to prepare for the Blazers. But Adelman’s point was that Denver’s continuity on its coaching staff gave it an implicit advantage.
“Everybody will step up,” he said prior to the game. “Different roles, but same expectations as if he is here. Where coach has been so good over the years is there’s an expectation in how we prepare, how we go about our business.”
On a personal note, Adelman said he would savor the chance to serve as head coach: “I don’t take it for granted,” he said.
Asked whether Malone had a line to his coaching staff if need be, Adelman answered in the affirmative.
“We have cell phones,” he joked.
One can only imagine what Malone was thinking in the first half as Lillard did what Lillard does. Portland’s generational point guard torched the Nuggets for 30 points in the first half on six 3-pointers. No matter the defender — and the Nuggets tried all their best perimeter stoppers — Lillard was on one.
But so was Jokic, who paced the Nuggets to a 73-67 halftime lead. Jokic assembled 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting, while Porter notched 13 first-half points and Murray added 11.
With Murray, it wasn’t so much his scoring that offered a window into his budding confidence. It was his slick playmaking, apparent within his six early assists.
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