Nikola Jokic narrowly missed out on his 21st triple double of the season as the Denver Nuggets battled to a 112-108 road victory over the Miami Heat on Monday night in the US.
Two-time NBA MVP Jokic finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as Denver stretched their lead at the top of the Western Conference to five games.
Denver, who improved to 40-18, trailed by nine points after a shaky first quarter but roared back in the second to outscore Miami 38-26 for a 65-62 lead at the break.
The Nuggets held on to the advantage for most of the second half and although Miami got within three points in the final minute, Denver held on for victory.
While Jokic led the scoring, Denver’s balanced offense spread the points around with seven players finishing in double figures and sharing 34 assists between them.
Michael Porter Jr. scored 17 points while Bruce Brown had 16.
“I think we like to play for each other,” Jokic said. “We try to find open guys and we’re just going to work for the best shot possible.
“The team buys into that and that’s why I think we have so many assists,” the Serbian star said.
Jimmy Butler led Miami’s scorers with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while Max Strus had 23 points and Bam Adebayo 19.
Mitchell eyes Philly test
Donovan Mitchell erupted for 41 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers bagged their seventh straight win with a gritty 117-109 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Mitchell’s sixth 40-point game of the season helped the Cavs tighten their grip on fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland are now 38-22 for the season, leading fifth-placed Brooklyn, who were thumped 124-106 by the New York Knicks earlier Monday.
Jarrett Allen (17 points) and Darius Garland (16) were Cleveland’s other principal scorers while Keldon Johnson led the scoring for San Antonio with 25 points.
“The biggest thing is just continuing to fight,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t play our best basketball. Regardless of how San Antonio’s been playing, they made it tough on us.
“You’ve got to give the credit for their performance but at the end of the day we found a way to execute and that’s big time.”
Cleveland will now look ahead to their final game before this weekend’s All-Star break, with a road clash against Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Mitchell believes the 76ers will have added motivation after the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl defeat to Kansas City on Sunday.
“That’s going to be a playoff game in a hostile environment,” Mitchell said.
“They just lost the Super Bowl so they’ll probably be a little bit fired up over there.
“We’ve got to go out there and hold our own and play the basketball we’ve been playing.”
Portland pummel Lakers
The Sixers warmed up for their date with the Cavs with a 123-104 blowout over the Houston Rockets.
James Harden led the Sixers scoring against his former club with 28 points and 10 assists while Tyrese Maxey impressed with 26 points off the bench after making 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Sixers talisman Joel Embiid added 23 points while Jalen Green led the Rockets with 29 points.
The Sixers are just one game ahead of the in-form Cavaliers heading into Wednesday’s game.
Elsewhere, a Los Angeles Lakers side missing LeBron James were swept aside by a rampant Portland Trail Blazers led by another 40-point gem from Damian Lillard.
James, who is nursing a niggling foot/ankle injury, has not played since passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer last week.
James’ absence was all too obvious as a new-look Lakers were pummeled by Portland, who led by 27 points at one stage as they romped to victory 127-115.
Lillard’s 40-point performance included eight three-pointers in 13-23 shooting from the field.
Portland improved to 28-29 with the win and are just outside the play-in places in 11th in the West. The Lakers fell to 26-32 and are third from bottom of the standings.
In San Francisco, 29 points from Andrew Wiggins and 27 from Klay Thompson propelled the Golden State Warriors to a 135-126 victory over the Washington Wizards.