Jokic’s absence felt as Suns thump Nuggets for Denver’s fourth straight loss

A powerful 48-point first quarter by the Phoenix Suns was too much for the shorthanded Denver Nuggets to overcome. Denver got within nine points in the second quarter but Phoenix took over in a blowout 126-97 win.

“It was very damaging allowing them to get that big lead, allowing them to make all the shots that they made, it put us in a big hole,” forward Jeff Green said. “It got us down 20 and when you’re down 20 in the first it’s tough to fight back but we battled.”

The Nuggets have lost four in a row and as it’s no surprise that the mood in the locker is somber.

“I just told our guys that we lost four in a row,” Michael Malone said. “Losing sucks. It should hurt. You should be angry, you should be frustrated, you should be embarrassed whatever it is. And we can’t wait for Jamal, Michael and Nikola to come back. We have to fix it and we can only do that by staying together and having a positive mindset.”

It was announced right before tipoff that Nikola Jokic would be out for his second straight game dealing with a wrist injury. Denver was also still without Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr and Zeke Nnaji.

Jeff Green stepped it up for Denver and led the way with 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the field. Aaron Gordon finished the night with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He was ejected in the third quarter after frustrations with officiating boiled over.

“We were talking to Natalie (the referee) after the half because I told her to look at a play where we had Aaron rolling to the basket and I felt he got fouled and Aaron felt he got fouled and he didn’t get the call,” Malone said. “To Natalie’s credit she watched it at the half and said you guys were right I missed it. He did get that. We should be shooting free throws. And I think from there it just kind of built.”

Cam Johnson led the Suns off the bench with a career-high 22 points, shooting 9 of 15 from the field and Deandre Ayton had 21 points and eight rebounds.

The Suns put up 48 points in the first 12 minutes of regulation – which was a season-high in a quarter – and took a 20-point lead. The Nuggets struggled getting stops and allowed the Suns to get whatever they wanted. Phoenix was firing on all cylinders and went 17 of 22 from the field and 7 of 8 from long range while Denver shot 12 of 27 from the field and 3 of 9 from three. Jae Crowder led all scorers with 11 points and shot perfect from the field. Aaron Gordon led the way for Denver with nine points on 4 of 6 shooting. The Suns went up 48-28 going into the second.

Denver rookie Bones Hyland left the game with two minutes left in the first quarter with another ankle injury. The last few games his ankles have been a problem for him. Malone said he thinks he’ll be ok but no further update at this time.

Phoenix led by as much as 21 points but Denver slowly chipped away at the lead to get to within seven. Deandre Ayton was a force in the paint, scoring 10 points in the second quarter, shooting 8 of 9 from the field in the first half. Gordon continued being aggressive for the Nuggets and put up seven points. He finished the first half with 16 points of 7 of 11 from the field. Jeff Green also had a nice showing for Denver heading into halftime. He went 4 of 5 from the field for 13 points to help keep the game close. The Suns took a 73-60 into the locker room at the half.

Coming out to start the second half, the Nuggets had some fight left in them. With under 7seven minutes left, Denver hit back to back 3-pointers, one by Monte Morris and another by JaMychal Green to get within 12 points. They had the momentum going so the Suns called a quick time out. From there the Suns hit two straight baskets and it went downhill for Denver from there. Gordon got ejected with 15 seconds left in the quarter and Phoenix took a 100-78 lead.

Phoenix outscored Denver 26-19 in the fourth quarter to get an easy Sunday night win.

Denver faces the Trail Blazers in Portland on Tuesday and then will have two full days off before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks.

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