Nikola Jokic’s passing is infectious. Against the Kings, his entire team caught the bug.
The Nuggets scrambled Sacramento, 121-111, on Friday night, snapping a two-game losing streak and sharing the basketball in a way that undoubtedly met Jokic’s approval.
The Nuggets whipped 32 passes to just eight turnovers. Seven guys finished in double figures. It was an all-encompassing clinic that saw numerous players benefit from Denver’s unselfishness.
“Seventy points in the paint,” acting head coach Popeye Jones said. “That’s a big number, that’s a season-high.”
Jokic paced the team with 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but he was hardly alone. Will Barton had 10 points and six assists, while both Jeff Green and JaMychal Green benefitted simply by cutting.
“(Jokic) pretty much tells you (where to go),” JaMychal said. “He’ll tell you during walk-throughs what he’s looking for.”
Now 19-18, the Nuggets head out on the road, again, for a contest Sunday at Oklahoma City.
Outside of De’Aaron Fox, the Kings presented few threats. The shifty guard poured in 30 points in the loss.
Careless turnovers fueled a 12-4 Sacramento run out of halftime, repeating a pattern that’s plagued the Nuggets all season. After a timeout, the Nuggets got back to playing their selfless style. Barton set JaMychal Green up with back-to-back dunks, before Jokic asserted himself.
“They do a good job actually of taking away the 3-point line,” Jones said. ” … You can score inside on them.”
Despite mounting frustration with the officials, Jokic dropped his shoulder and bullied the Kings’ interior defense. With athletic spins and a deft touch, he poured in 12 in the quarter to help re-establish Denver’s momentum. Once he went to the bench, Facu Campazzo found Jeff Green for back-to-back soaring jams, and the Nuggets carried a 96-85 lead into the fourth.
Green came off the bench in his first game back since exiting protocols, ceding the start to JaMychal Green, who was impactful as both a roller and a rebounder.
The Nuggets got more good news when four coaches returned to their normal posts against the Kings as well.
“Hopefully the lead singer will be back soon,” Jones said of Michael Malone, who missed his fourth consecutive game to health and safety protocols.
The Nuggets had enough motivation as it was trying to fight for position in the West. But Sacramento might’ve drawn a little bit more out of them.
“They swept us last year,” Jones said. “Guys were in the locker room actually before our meeting talking about that.”
Watching the Nuggets’ bench the first half Friday night was almost as entertaining as the on-court product. Each highlight-level pass – and there were many as the Nuggets rung up a 66-54 halftime lead – elicited some jubilant reaction from Denver’s bench mob.
When Jokic whipped a no-look bounce pass to JaMychal Green in transition, Jamal Murray started hopping up and down with his hands on his head. After Bones Hyland danced with the ball, shaking free of Sacramento big man Tristan Thompson for a 3-pointer, Monte Morris imitated the dance on the sidelines.
As the Nuggets walked to the locker room, Barton couldn’t help but rap along to “Rapper’s Delight,” a scene as indicative of the mood as any.
The Nuggets picked apart the Kings’ disconnected defense for 18 first-half assists on 26 made field goals. The movement was incessant and often rewarded with a pass. After serving up Aaron Gordon for an easy first-quarter dunk, the Nuggets’ best aerial act returned the favor to Jokic, who hammered a dunk of his own.