The Denver Nuggets finally had a healthy starting squad to throw at the Sacramento Kings and turned in a dominant victory, winning 117-96. Denver not only avoided getting swept by an opponent in the regular season in 4 games for the first time since the Utah Jazz in 2021, they made a statement about who they can be when they have all their starters. The Kings were without De’Aaron Fox who was a late scratch, but Jamal Murray shined with 32 points and 6 assists. Nikola Jokic had another triple-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, while every Denver starter posted at least 14 points in the win. Keegan Murray led Sacramento with 21 points, and Domantas Sabonis had 13 points and 10 boards, but they just didn’t have the scoring punch to stay with Denver who put on a monster run in the second and third quarters to run away with this one.

Game Recap

MPJ gets up a three for Denver’s first shot but missed, while Keegan Murray didn’t miss his own from deep. KCP also missed one, Murray turned the ball over in transition, and finally Murray made a three off a scramble play to put Denver on the board. Michael Porter Jr. got a block but Davion Mitchell made a shot off the loose ball and Murray turned the ball over again for a really sloppy start for the Nuggets. MPJ made a pair of free throws and Jamal hit a layup, but another pair of threes from Sacramento forced a Denver timeout with the Kings up 13-7. MPJ scored off a cut followed by a Jamal-assisted dunk from Aaron Gordon to cut the lead to 2, but a couple of airballs or non-calls from Jokic and KCP hurt Denver. Jamal hit a three behind a Jokic screen, and Denver’s improved defense forced a couple turnovers that led to Reggie Jackson’s three putting Denver up 1 briefly at 19-18. Sabonis and Harrison Barnes put the Kings back up by three and Reggie Jackson had his shot blocked while the Kings kept making buckets. Christian Braun and Peyton Watson botched a transition bucket together, but Jokic fed Watson the next time down for a dunk and Braun made a three to cut the lead back to a bucket. Murray made a scoop shot that Malik Monk answered over Reggie, but despite Jokic getting his first bucket in the final minute of the quarter Denver ended the frame down 35-28 after a buzzer-beating three from Keegan Murray.

Keegan again hit a bucket to start the second quarter and put the Kings up 9, but Jamal made a bank shot and a Zeke block-and-recovery turned into a Watson dunk. Denver couldn’t put a run together though as the Kings kept making shots and Denver made a habit of missing open threes. Sacramento was up 45-32 when Jokic came in when he assisted Reggie Jackson’s layup, made one of his own, and then Aaron Gordon’s free throws cut the deficit to single digits. AG had a traditional three-point play to make it 47-41 Sacramento, and MPJ recovered from a brutal start to play some defense and force a turnover, then hit a transition three to made it a one-score game. Sabonis made a paint bucket to stop Denver’s 12-0 run, but AG finished inside again to keep the game tight. Jokic scored inside and KCP made a corner three to tie the game at 51, and AG played more bully-ball inside for another bucket. A steal created a Jokic-assisted AG dunk finish and forced Sacramento to take a timeout. Murray buried a couple of threes, Jokic played through contact for a bucket and free throws, and the Nuggets finished the half up 65-55 on an absolute heater.

Jamal Murray hit a turnaround jumper to open the second half scoring while the Nuggets crashed the defensive glass. MPJ hit a jumper of his own as the game continued to be scrappy while Jamal hit yet another turnaround, and Jokic’s baby hook combined with a patented KCP steal-and-slam made it 75-57 Denver and forced another Kings timeout.

Sabonis got a putback but MPJ answered with a three and a transition layup, then a steal got Murray a circus shot finish through a foult and a free throw for good measure. Malik Monk made a three but it couldn’t slow Denver at all, as they answered with a nice give-and-go from Jokic to AG for a dunk. Jokic threw Gordon an oop, KCP buried a three and Denver was on a 55-15 extended run going back to the second quarter. Trey Lyles hit a three that KCP answered to give Jokic his 4th triple-double in a row. Peyton Watson hit a transition pullup, and KCP’s three made it 100-72 Denver after 3.

Denver started the fourth quarter sluggishly with turnovers from a bench unit with just Jamal Murray from the starters, needing almost 3 minutes to get a Christian Braun bucket. Jamal Murray also made a nice bucket, and Zeke Nnaji stuffed Chris Duarte in a nice showing. Duarte hit a three the next time down though and cut the Denver lead to 21. Murray hit a jumper and a three, then came out of the game to try to save him for tomorrow. Garbage time came early for both squads despite Sabonis getting a cut on his cheek after coming back in to get his 10th rebound and keep his double-double streak alive. Lots of turnovers from both teams after the game was locked down, but Jay Huff banked in a three for the Nuggets while Keegan Murray dunked over him on the other end. Hunter Tyson came back from a finger issue to nail a corner three, but Julian Strawther slammed his head on the hardwood and needed to come out of the game. He seemed okay on the sideline after but that was the only late drama in a great win for Denver, 117-96.

Final Thoughts

When Aaron Gordon hunts mismatches it really puts other squads in the hurt locker. Aaron Gordon checked back in with what coach Michael Malone calls “an attack mindset” and he simply decided to attack on both ends. He forced action at the rim, finished every play near the bucket, defended his ass off and ran the court leaving Sacramento in the dust. And it ramped up the activity of the rest of the Nuggets as well, getting everyone engaged with the game and to step up to the level of physicality the Kings began with as they grabbed and bodied Denver. AG played unbothered by that contact and turned that kind of play into a weakness for Sacramento that the rest of the team capitalized on.

– A rested Jamal Murray looks like a world-beater – which is why Denver needs to keep him rested. Murray was outstanding tonight, taking it to the Kings on offense and refusing to be any kind of weak link on defense. He made incredibly tough shots as well as some really great passes, and imposed himself on the pace and playstyle of the game. He was fast and ruthless – and that’s why I hope he sits out tomorrow night’s game against the Miami Heat. Denver needs this Murray down the stretch and into the playoffs, and so they need to pick their opportunities to give him some rest. There is no reason to play him on a back-to-back – rest him, let him recover from a great game and allow him to give you another great game down the line.

– Playing hard really is Denver’s superpower. I hate to give it to Malone on that one, but Sacramento set the tone early with how physically they played Denver. The Nuggets came out a little tentative, but after AG supercharged them they really went after the Kings on both sides of the court. Without De’Aaron Fox, the Kings don’t really have someone who can strike fear into anyone’s heart as a penetrator or dribble creator, and the Nuggets absolutely worked the Kings over for two quarters by denying them access to the hoop and forcing them to shoot uncomfortable outside shots. Denver scrambled and recovered like maniacs and the Kings wilted under the pressure, while the Nuggets executed at an incredibly high level. One possession at a time, one play at a time, Denver turned up the heat and cooked the Kings – and showed once again why they are the team to beat when the lights get brighter.