Nikola Jokic dazzles in front of adoring crowd as Nuggets knock out Wizards
WASHINGTON, DC — The five-city, two-country road trip ended here Wednesday night with more than a dozen Serbian flags circling the field of avid fans.
In what looked like a Nuggets home game at times, two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic gave some of his countrymen reason to cheer as he tore down Washington’s meager defense. The Nuggets, following his lead, pulled off a convincing 118-104 victory, to cap their road trip at 3-2.
Jokic finished the night with 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, eventually coming on as a substitute with less than three minutes remaining, perhaps to avoid any accusations of stat padding.
At 49-24 and 19-18 away from home, the Nuggets can finally take solace in that their longest road trip of the year is over.
Michael Porter Jr. buried six 3-pointers, as the Nuggets caught fire from beyond the arc. Denver shot 15 for 32 from 3-point range, smashing Washington’s punch. Kristaps Porzingis had 25, but no other wizard managed more than 16.
Jamal Murray added three more 3-pointers to complete the play-off.
The third quarter began, and the Nuggets were, finally, engaged. Their defense was physical and tenacious, while their offense unleashed its full capacity. Porter had two interceptions that led to outs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope too. It was as if Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s ever-present message – defend and run – clicked.
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for former wizard Caldwell-Pope, who was part of an offseason trade Denver made to bolster its perimeter defense.
“We didn’t get him for the regular season,” Malone said, noting how valuable they considered him when sending Monte Morris and Will Barton to Washington.
The defense bled on offense and Denver’s offense took off. Porter drained three 3-pointers in the third and Jokic had 10 points in the quarter alone. A 27-12 run opened the game. Malone even found a moment to steal a smile from the visitors’ bench with some of his veterans.
The 39-16 hammering opened up a 94-73 lead heading into the final quarter, and the Nuggets finally looked like a playoff-ready team in a matter of weeks.
Malone spent Wednesday’s pregame talking about his team’s maturity and wondering if they’d enter a contest against a team that might be heading to the draw.
It came after Tuesday’s practice in Georgetown, which was expected to “sweat New York”, and got his team moving in the middle of a long road trip.
“The time has come,” Malone said. With only nine games left in the regular season, the expectation of league habits — not to mention an interest in playing well — should have already been established.
And yet, the Nuggets fought their way through a disappointing first half against the Wizards, going into the half 57-55.
Jokic was assertive, dumping 16 points and snatching seven early boards. A pro-Jokic crowd watched him fly off for a first-half dunk, then roared as he buried a 3-pointer. They even elevated their tenor to the prospect of him hoisting one from beyond the bow.
But aside from Jokic, the Nuggets weren’t sharp in their execution and weren’t dedicated in their defensive engagement. Porzingis beat Washington with 15 points in the first half, tearing down Denver’s home defense.
For one half, Denver’s interest in establishing championship habits seemed mixed, at best.
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