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Recap: Denver Nuggets get off to slow start against Sacramento Kings, recover to earn 120-118 victory

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had one more game to play before the NBA All Star break but at times it looked like they were already thinking about vacation. They allowed the Sacramento Kings to build a big lead early and looked out of sorts. The Nuggets fought back though. Michael Malone and Malik Beasley both ended up getting ejected, Isaiah Thomas gave Denver some key minutes in the third and Nikola Jokic tipped in the game winner with eight tenths left in the game to send Denver into the break riding high as the second seed in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets opened with Jokic doing the heavy lifting, throwing some nice dishes, including one to himself off the backboard. There was little defense to speak of early on with both teams starting the game by shooting the lights out. Sacramento went on a 10-2 run to get ahead by six which forced a Denver timeout. The Nuggets responded out of the timeout but Nemanja Bjelica was giving them problems at the perimeter. Jamal Murray had a regrettable sequence where he took a bad shot and followed it up by losing his man on defense. By the five minute mark the Kings led by a dozen. Sacramento kept growing their lead and perhaps looking for a spark, coach Michael Malone went to Isaiah Thomas at the three minute mark. Paul Millsap got a 6-0 run all on his own and was a steadying force as the quarter wound down. The Nuggets were able to maintain but the defense remained atrocious. They allowed the Kings to score forty-one points in the first quarter and get an eleven point lead.

Denver opened the second quarter by shooting themselves in the foot twice. First they gave up an easy offensive rebound to Bogdan Bogdanovic and then Torrey Craig missed a bunny at the rim after a great feed from IT. Trey Lyles was having a particularly rough go of it but the entire Nuggets team had gone ice cold. Jokic checked back in around the eight minute mark to get the offense jump started. Denver didn’t exactly get an offensive explosion, but the cold shooting had transferred to the Kings which let the Nuggets chip away at the lead. Millsap checked back in with just under five minutes in the half and once again made some plays right away. With the Kings still struggling from offense the Nuggets were able to climb back in the game, a pair of Jokic free throws reduced the lead to five. The Kings pushed back as the game reduced to a track meet with the half winding down. It looked like the Nuggets got fouled three straight times down the court but there was no call and then the referees gave Fox a weak foul which made Malone lose his mind. He quickly got two technicals and an early exit. The half ended with Marvin Bagley III knocking down a three and pushing the Kings lead back to eleven.

Jokic opened up the second half with a quick basket and then a full court assist to Will Barton but the Nuggets still were struggling to string together stops and buckets. They hung tight until finally around the nine minute mark they got a couple of buckets from Barton and Malik Beasley and pulled within four which forced a Sacramento timeout. The TO didn’t seem to help much. The Kings were still being lackadaisical on offense and resorting to iso ball which gave Denver the opportunity to get within one point. Beasley was a consistent force for the Nuggets throughout the third but Denver was struggling to get over the hump and recapture the lead. IT checked in and hit a three to re-energize the crowd while Denver hung with the Kings but were still unable to take the lead. With a minute to play Thomas pulled up for three and buried it to finally put Denver back in front. He followed it up with a step back mid range jumper and when the quarter ended the Nuggets still maintained a two point lead.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets opened the fourth strong, Monte Morris was aggressive to the hoop and getting points, including a rare dunk and Denver maintained a slim lead. The starters checked back in at the eight and a half minute mark. Denver immediately went back to running the offense through Jokic. Unfortunately the Nuggets inexplicably decided to stop defending the three point line which gave the Kings back to back wide open shots that they buried to take back the lead. There was a timeout taken and Beasley and Bjelica had some extra curricular activity which resulted in double technicals. A couple possessions later Beasley drove and finished on the break but had some extra words after the basket and just like that he was off to join coach Malone in the locker room. The pace of the game picked up considerably down the stretch. Jokic had quietly worked his way into another triple double and was key with the game winding down. The Nuggets clung to a four point lead under two minutes and, while they weren’t expanding on it, they were getting several offensive rebounds and that was eating up valuable clock. Jokic lost the ball in the post with under a minute to go and a four point lead which turned into a fast break basket for Bogdanovic. Jokic missed a tough shot near the rim, Buddy Hield converted on the other end and the game was tied with 16 seconds to go. Denver went to Jokic on the final possession, he worked his way into the lane but missed the floater. In classic Joker style though, he followed up the shot and tipped in in with eight tenths to go. Hield took a desperation three at the buzzer that got a little to close for comfort but in the end Denver escapes with the victory