The Denver Nuggets started well and finished well, and that was enough to put away the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108. Nikola Jokic had a monster stat line of 27 points, 22 rebounds and 12 assists to go with a couple of blocks, and Jamal Murray came up one rebound shy of a triple-double as well despite shooting 5-for-21. The rest of Denver’s starters also scored in double figures and Peyton Watson had a nice 14 points off the bench to go with some necessary defense. Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons for Portland combined for 59 points, but just 9 rebounds and 6 assists as the Blazers had just 14 assisted buckets overall and could not generate those points down the stretch when they had to.

Game Recap

Aaron Gordon and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope both missed shots to start the game, but Michael Porter Jr. drained the 3 off an AG assist to let the fans sit. KCP finished the next bucket in transition, then MPJ got a block and Jokic had a putback on the other end as Portland went 0-for-6 to start the game. Deandre Ayton finally made a basket but Murray hit a three in response for a 10-2 early lead. Jokic hit a paint bucket over Camara, and Denver kept harassing the Blazers. Tybulle made a three for Portland while MPJ missed a couple, and Denver but KCP’s free throws made it 15-7 before Aaron Gordon scored his first bucket with this windmill dunk:

MPJ answered a Portland 3 with one of his own and Watson had a nice finger-roll finish as well as a transition bucket. Reggie Jackson hit a three and all Portland had in return were some paint buckets. KCP dunked in transition, Jokic got a couple free throws, and a Nikola-assisted layup from Braun put Denver up 33-20 after one.

Reggie Jackson had Denver’s first bucket of the second quarter, but Scoot Henderson and Malcom Brogdon both did a nice job in transition and forced Denver to take a timeout at 37-28 to talk about the defense. MPJ hit a three that Scoot Henderson and Duop Reath both answered from deep, then Reath blocked an MPJ dunk. Jokic came back in with Denver up just 3 at 40-37 and immediately turned it over trying to get it to MPJ on the wing. Ayton dunked, Jokic missed a bucket, and Scoot’s free throws put Portland up for the first time. Jokic buried a three at the buzzer, Brogdon made yet another shot at the rack, and Denver was in a scrap. AG made a three and then got another assist, this time to KCP on the break to drag Denver back in front at 50-47.

Gordon made another layup on a Jokic assist, then Jokic put in a turnaround, but Scoot’s 3 kept Portland close. Ayton dunked and Anfernee Simons buried another three for Portland, but Murray make a key three and a massive stuff on Brogdon’s shot to keep Denver up 59-55 at the half.

Simons opened the scoring for Portland in the second half, but Jokic finished in the paint off a nice AG assist, and then AG’s tip-in the next time down kept Denver up. Gordon had a dunk and free throw on the next possession, and MPJ finished at the rim too as Denver started to corral more rebounds. Porter had a bad turnover, and Portland got to the free throw line to get four quick points. Jokic got a putback but Jabari Walker’s traditional 3-point play cut Denver’s lead to 5 at 70-65. Jokic got another block and had a huge rebounding game with 17 at that point in the third for another putback, and Gordon’s stepback put Denver back up 11. Jokic fed Gordon for yet another dunk, then had the soft touch finish himself at the rim. Denver’s defense really caused Portland trouble but Simons finally got on a shooting streak to help Portland’s cause. Watson and Jokic missed their connection a couple times but Nikola got one to Jackson on a layup to get to 21 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists through three quarters, but Simons and Scoot Henderson kept Portland down just 8 at 92-84.

Portland came out firing in the fourth with Jokic on the bench, and despite a great finish through contact by Watson, Simons cut the lead to 96-91 early. Watson hit another bucket, Murray got his own miss back and made a push shot to get Denver to 100 but he was 4-of-19 from the field when he kicked it out to Watson for a corner 3 to put Denver back up 10, 103-93. Porter had a nice finish inside, Watson blocked Brogdon off the backboard, and Portland committed a take foul on Jokic. Portland tried to keep pace with free throws and guard play, but on defense KCP destroyed Simons and kept Denver up 10 at 111-101.

Jokic finished inside over Brogdon, then again for a buzzer-beater off Murray’s 10th assist. Jamal buried a three on a tough shooting night and then ceded the final minute to Collin Gillespie and Denver’s deep bench as Denver took the game 120-108.

Final Thoughts:

– Denver’s got to get more out of its bench minutes. It’s a broken record, but there are too many games where Jamal Murray and Reggie Jackson shoot poorly together and then also cannot defend together. Their games are not complementary, and the Nuggets need to find a better way to keep the bench production high. Peyton Watson also cannot get into foul trouble in the first half – teams now know he’s got the goods and will force Denver’s best bench defender off the court if they can by attacking him once he gets a silly foul. His focus in the second half on both ends really helped Denver salt this one away, but Denver can’t keep relying on one of its most inexperienced players to pull them through. Hopefully the All-Star Break gives this squad some much-needed rest in a couple weeks and allows them to reconfigure when the games resume and players like Julian Strawther are fully back and healthy as extra options.

– Nikola Jokic makes it really easy to take him for granted, which is why Denver fans can’t. It’s not just that’s Jokic is great, he is so casually great that it doesn’t even register as an all-time level game at first. He just lulls you to sleep and then breaks records on you. 27 / 22 / 12 is a ridiculous line and it never felt like he was trying for any particular number. He just went with what was offered and what Portland offered him was a monster line that he was happy to fill. Nikola is a unique player in the history of the game and it’s a delight every game to see what he’s going to cook up with the ingredients the other team provides. Tonight was a feast.