Denver’s hot play continued on Saturday afternoon as the Nuggets eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers with a convincing 134 to 115 victory. Will Barton led the way with 31 points, and Nikola Jokic notched a 23-11-11 triple-double, his ninth of the season.
The first few minutes of an early afternoon game in Los Angeles went just about as expected. Neither team really found a groove and a lot of shots were missed. Murray hit a few shots to get Denver going, and once Plumlee entered he contributed seven points. The Nuggets went on a few runs to take the early lead, 33-26.
Los Angeles went with Nugget killer Boban Marjanovic to start the second but other than drawing a couple of fouls the tactic was ineffective this time around. The Nuggets continued to play smart, sound basketball by not forcing anything and taking whatever the Clippers gave them. Denver extended the lead to double-digits, but late in the half Austin Rivers nailed a few threes (bingo!) to prevent the Nuggets from truly pulling away. Still, Denver led at half 66-58.
The Nuggets continued their offensive energy to start the third quarter and regained a double-digit lead. Tobias Harris made some shots and Lou Williams, who was 0-for-something in the first half, finally got going. The game of runs continued for a bit, but then the floodgates opened in Denver’s favor as the Nuggets scored on seemingly every possession. Jokic notched his ninth triple-double and the Denver lead grew to 19.
But, per usual, no 19 point lead against Los Angeles is safe. Marjanovic checked in, but it was Lou Williams who sparked a Clippers run with a 14-point third quarter. Heading into the fourth, Denver’s lead was 101-89.
All flashbacks to that awful February 27 loss were put to rest in the fourth, however. The Nuggets bench did a phenomenal job in the opening minutes of the quarter to build the lead, even holding off strong play by Montrez Harrell and Williams. By the time the starters began checking in, Denver was up 16 points and from there it was smooth sailing. The Clippers simply couldn’t stop anything by Denver all afternoon, and the final score was a convincing 134-115. Go Nuggets!
What’s the equivalent of Rocktober for the Nuggets? Pickaxe April? Let’s go with that. It’s freaking Pickaxe April! Denver is now 5-0 since finishing that long road trip, and is currently tied with Minnesota for the eighth seed (though that may change depending on the other Saturday games). Two games remain - Monday against Portland, and Wednesday at Minnesota. Two huge games, but two winnable games. If the Nuggets run the table we will get to watch playoff basketball in Denver for the first time since 2013, but even if they don’t there’s still a great chance that happens anyways.
The best part is, the Nuggets are playing like the team we all thought they would be last offseason when Paul Millsap signed. Jokic is still Jokic. Murray has blossomed into a legit scorer. Barton is a straight baller no matter how frustrating he can be. Harris is worth every penny of his new contract. And even though the defense is suspect at times, they are finding ways to win. Forget about all the drama of the team whimpering into another lost season. This team is for real. The Nuggets are peaking at just the right time. Two games left! LET’S GOOOOO!!!