Giannis Antetokounmpo lauded Doc Rivers for bringing "high standards" to the Milwaukee Bucks after Monday's big win over the Denver Nuggets.

The Bucks ran out 112-95 winners over the reigning NBA champions, with Giannis finishing with a double-double of 36 points and 18 rebounds.

Milwaukee have won their last two games, after a three-game losing spin, and sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-19 record ahead of Tuesday's meeting with the Miami Heat.

While Rivers has not had the easiest of starts in charge since he replaced Adrian Griffin, the Bucks have now held successive opponents to under 100 points for the first time since 2021.

And Giannis credited the former Philadelphia 76ers coach for setting the standards high since his arrival.

"Guys are just being on the same page," Giannis said.

"Coach Doc is holding us to a high standard. He wants us to defend.

"He doesn't take lack of effort as an excuse. If you're on the floor, you've got to do your best."

The defensive organisation was particularly pleasing for Rivers.

"Just steady progress," he said. "Believing in your defense, trusting it, clarifying it, what we want to do.

"The more we can get our guys to know exactly what we're doing, they can play at full speed. That's what we're trying to do. Simplify, so we can play with fire."

Damian Lillard added: "I just think it's the accountability. When we're watching film, we're in our meetings, in practice, I think Doc and our entire staff, they're doing a great job of just calling everything out.

"They're challenging us in a lot of different ways. Our communication, how physical we are, how we carry ourselves as a group.

"Trying to find our identity. Who do we want to be? Who are we going to step like when we get on the floor? And I think we're just having a lot of carryover because there's so much conversation around it."

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Denver sit fourth in the West.

Recent acquisition Buddy Hield scored 24 points and the Philadelphia 76ers held on late to end the Cleveland Cavaliers' nine-game winning streak with Monday's 123-121 victory.

Despite still being without injured reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid, Philadelphia handed the red-hot Cavaliers just their second loss in their last 19 games behind hot-shooting efforts from Hield and Kelly Oubre Jr. 

Hield, making his third appearance since being acquired by the Sixers from the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, finished 5 of 8 from 3-point range and 9 of 13 overall from the field. Oubre hit 10 of his 14 field goal attempts while also collecting 24 points.

The win was Philadelphia's second straight following a 1-8 stretch from Jan. 25-Feb. 9, during which the team lost Embiid for an extended period due to a knee injury that required surgery.

Cleveland got 36 points and six assists from All-Star Donovan Mitchell and 21 points and 10 rebounds from Jarrett Allen, but couldn't match the Sixers down the stretch after taking a 102-100 lead with seven minutes remaining.

Hield scored the final eight points of a 13-2 run that gave Philadelphia a 113-104 advantage with 4:28 left to play, and the 76ers led 120-110 with 1:25 to go following an Oubre 3-pointer.

The Cavs responded with a 9-0 spurt to pull within 120-119 on Mitchell's 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining, and had a chance to win at the buzzer when Darius Garland launched a 3-point shot that just missed the mark.

Garland ended with 21 points and nine assists, while Tyrese Maxey recorded 22 points and nine assists for Philadelphia.

Timberwolves dominate second half in rout of Clippers

The Minnesota Timberwolves got 24 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and a big third quarter to pull away for a 121-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers and pad their lead atop the Western Conference.

Anthony Edwards added 23 points, 12 of which came during a dominant third quarter in which the Timberwolves outscored Los Angeles by a 40-19 margin.

Minnesota entered Monday's clash owning a slim half-game advantage on the Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, who were handed a 112-95 defeat by the Milwaukee Bucks, in the tightly bunched West standings. 

The Clippers kept it close until the latter stages of the third quarter, as the Timberwolves held a 70-69 edge with under five minutes left in the period.

Minnesota took over from there, as it closed out the quarter on a 19-3 run to take a commanding 89-72 lead into the fourth. Towns had eight points during the pivotal spurt.

The Timberwolves maintained a lead of 15 points or more throughout the final period en route to posting a second straight win and giving Los Angeles a second loss in its last three games.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George led the Clippers with 18 points each, while James Harden finished with 17 points and six assists. 

Bucks use defence to get past champion Nuggets

The Milwaukee Bucks got 36 points and 18 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo and another strong performance from their much-maligned defence to hand the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets a 112-95 loss.

Milwaukee entered Monday's marquee matchup ranked 23rd in the NBA in scoring defence at 119.3 points allowed per game, but held the formidable Nuggets to their second-lowest shooting rate of the season at 38.3 per cent.

The Bucks have yielded under 100 points in consecutive games for the first time this season. Milwaukee lost five of its first six outings under new head coach Doc Rivers prior to Friday's 120-84 rout of the Charlotte Hornets.

Nikola Jokić amassed 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver's second and third-leading scorers on the season, were a combined 4 of 16 from the field, however.

Murray managed just three points on 1-of-5 shooting before sitting out the second half due to inflammation in his lower legs.

The Bucks had built a comfortable 60-44 lead at that point as Antetokounmpo racked up 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting over the first two quarters. The Nuggets never got their deficit under 13 points the rest of the way and are now mired in a two-game losing streak.

 

D'Angelo Russell believes the Los Angeles Lakers are only going to get better after he scored 30 points to help seal a 139-122 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Lakers put up 87 first-half points in a spectacular start as they bounced back from their loss to the Denver Nuggets with a big win against the Pelicans on Friday.

Austin Reaves had 27 points and LeBron James added 21 with 14 assists for the Lakers, who tied a franchise record with 51 points in the second quarter. 

Russell scored 21 in the first half and all five starters had at least 12 while the Lakers hit 11 3-pointers and 67.4 percent of their overall shots.

Back in the lineup after missing the Nuggets loss through injury, Russell thinks there is much more to come from Los Angeles (28-26).

"The chemistry is definitely growing," Russell said to the Los Angeles Times.

"The trade deadline just ended, so guys are a little bit more comfortable. So, I think it’s only going to get better from here.

"With all the guys we have, it’s going to allow guys to step up when their names are called. It was a good job."

While the Lakers did not make any moves at the trade deadline, they do hope to add free agent Spencer Dinwiddie, who was waived by the Toronto Raptors after being traded from the Brooklyn Nets.

Dinwiddie attended the game and sat with general manager Rob Pelinka before visiting the Lakers’ locker room.

He is believed to be deciding between the Lakers and former team the Dallas Mavericks, who the guard visited with on Thursday.

James and Anthony Davis are optimistic about the prospect of Dinwiddie signing.

"Playmaking, another ball handler, another shot-maker, another guy, another veteran," LeBron said after being asked what Dinwiddie would bring.

"Anytime you can add a veteran with that ability, it helps. So we will see what happens."

Davis added: "Obviously, we have seen what he did with Brooklyn and what he did with Dallas making big plays for them. He is a well-established player."

There were 20 points from Davis despite being limited by foul trouble. He can feel a sense of relief among the Lakers squad after the trade deadline passed.

"I'm just glad the day is over," he said ahead of the game. "It can kind of make it a little wacky around the trade deadline time, guys hearing their names in rumors, and if this is going to happen, not going to happen. 

"It can kind of weigh on guys. So, I'm just glad it is over. We are who we are and we have who we have.

"It is on us to figure out how we can get more wins and move up in the standings."

Los Angeles is ninth in the Western Conference, winning four times in five games before it hosts Detroit on Tuesday.

Zion Williamson had 30 points for the Pelicans (30-22) and Brandon Ingram contributed 22 against his former team as a four-game winning streak was snapped. New Orleans is at Portland on Saturday.

Jamal Murray shined as the Los Angeles Lakers' three-game winning streak was halted by the Denver Nuggets, who won 114-106 at Crypto.com Arena.

Denver beat Los Angeles for the seventh game in a row, having swept them in the Western Conference finals last season on the way to their NBA championship success.

Anthony Davis scored 32 points and LeBron James added 25 for the Lakers but D’Angelo Russell was out injured after the team opted not to make any moves at the trade deadline.

Russell’s replacement Max Christie also suffered an injury shorty before halftime as the Lakers dropped to 27-26, while the Nuggets (36-16) have now won three straight games, and eight of their last 10. 

Nikola Jokic just missed a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, while Murray scored 29 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 27.

The Nuggets led by 15 at one stage in the second half but the game was level again at 104-104 entering the final two minutes. A 10-0 Denver run proved decisive, ending the Lakers' best winning streak since they lifted the NBA Cup in Las Vegas.

"They made shots and executed," said LeBron. "The ball always ends up in Jamal Murray's hands.

"We tied the game and twice they hit big 3s, so they made more plays offensively than us and were able to win the game.

"Very good teams have an ability to run plays late in the game that they haven't run all game and have certain packages they can go to where they can get a really good shot.

"But it makes it even more dynamic when you have a point guard and center as great as [Murray and Jokic], it definitely helps the play calls when you have those two!"

For LeBron, who also had nine rebounds and seven assists, he was able to focus on the game despite speculation around the trade deadline and a big day which saw the emotional unveiling of Kobe Bryant’s statue.

"I went through my regular game-day routine and focused on the job at hand," he said.

"I knew coming in coming off a 12-day, six-game road trip is difficult on us, but once you get on the floor you have to lock in on an assignment. That’s all that matters.

"Our whole year so far has been about health. We haven't got to the point yet [where everyone is available]."

A busy schedule continues for Los Angeles as it hosts New Orleans on Friday, while Denver is at Sacramento next.

Davis echoed LeBron in citing health as the Lakers’ key issue, but still felt they could have won the contest.

"This is our team, who we are going to have," he said after the trade deadline passed. "Like I said, until we get guys healthy, we kind of have to get back into our groove.

"But this was a very, very winnable game and down the stretch kind of hurt us."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone was glad to see his team hold their nerve in the final moments.

He said: "What I saw in that stretch was poise on offense and executing. 

"Give them [the Lakers] credit, they had all the momentum and they were attacking us, so to outscore that team 10-2 in the last few minutes, that means you’re defending at a high level and you’re rebounding."

Denver has the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves at the top of the Western Conference, with Los Angeles in the No,9 position.

The Denver Nuggets must be at their best from the first minute as they aim to defend their NBA title, so says Jamal Murray.

Denver, led by the imperious Nikola Jokic (29 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) overturned a double-digit deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-103 on Sunday.

The reigning NBA champions are fourth in a competitive Western Conference, in which three of the top four teams are all on 35 wins.

However, Murray, who chipped in with 21 points and 10 assists, wants to see the Nuggets sharpen up from the off, and not have to work their way back into games as often.

"I think we should just be a little bit more on point to start the game, not to have to kick it into another gear," Murray said.

"I think we've just got to be a little more conscious, a little more aware of the task at hand each and every night that we're going to get their best shot.

"We can give our best shot, as well, from the start."

It was a sentiment echoed by coach Michael Malone, who pointed out his team's defensive improvement throughout the game.

"Our defense got better as the game went along," Malone said.

"We had zero defense. We had a little bit of defense. We got a lot more defense. And we had great defense."

While the Trail Blazers sit next to last in the West, with a 15-35 record, Anfernee Simons - who contributed 26 points to their total - took plenty of positives.

"I thought we played well for the majority of the game, all the game, to be honest with you," Simons said.

"They're a good team. They made runs. They’re a championship team. They're a veteran team.

"We rolled out with a lot of young guys and sometimes that's just what happens.

"So, I'm just glad that we stuck with it and continued to play hard. Overall, I'm pretty happy about how we played today."

Michael Malone was left to ponder what life was like for the Denver Nuggets prior to Nikola Jokic's presence after another star turn from the two-time NBA MVP.

Having sat out Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jokic returned to action in style in a 120-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 22 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season.

"What life was like before Nikola got here," Denver coach Malone asked afterwards.

"I think people don't do that. They're like 'It's always been like this.' No it wasn’t. No it wasn't. Don't do that. Don't lie to yourself.

“We have been spoilt and I'm sure some of us do find ourselves maybe taking it for granted.

"But just remind yourself that not many guys like Nikola Jokic walk through those doors. Appreciate every opportunity that you have to watch him play."

Friday's game was the Nuggets' 50th of the season, with the reigning NBA champions recording a 34-16 record, exactly the same as they had at the same stage last season.

"I like that we are still playing with the same effort," said Jokic, who is averaging 26.3 points per game.

"It's not like we won a championship and now we're going to go easy. I like that we still want to compete and we still want to be better."

Nikola Jokic recorded his league-leading 15th triple-double this season and Jamal Murray fell a rebound shy of one as the Denver Nuggets took down the Portland Trail Blazers, 120-108 on Friday.

Jokic had 27 points, a season-high 22 rebounds and 12 assists for his 120th career triple-double, a total bettered only by Russell Westbrook (198), Oscar Robertson (181) and Magic Johnson (138) in NBA history.

Murray finished with 13 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, while Aaron Gordon scored 18 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 16 points. The Nuggets have won five straight and 12 of 13 against the Blazers.

Scoot Henderson scored 30 points and Anfernee Simons had 29 for Portland, which played without Jerami Grant, who was a late scratch due to lower back tightness.

Clippers’ Westbrook hits milestone in win

Russell Westbrook scored 23 points to become the 25th player in NBA history to reach 25,000 in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 136-125 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Westbrook, who shot 10 of 13 from the field and handed out nine assists, joined teammate James Harden on the list of players to score 25,000 points. Harden reached the milestone in December.

Kawhi Leonard scored 21 of his 33 points in the first half and Paul George added 18 as the Clippers won for the seventh time in eight games.

Jalen Ivey scored 28 points and Bojan Bogdanovic had 26 for the Pistons, who dropped to 4-41 after a 2-1 start to the season.

Sabonis breaks Robertson’s record in Kings’ win

Domantas Sabonis tallied 26 points and 12 rebounds to break Oscar Robertson’s single-season franchise record with his 30th straight double-double to lead the Sacramento Kings to a 133-122 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Sabonis, who added seven assists, surpassed Robertson’s mark set from Dec. 6, 1961-Jan. 30, 1962.

De’Aaron Fox had 25 points and six assists and Malik Monk added 23 points, six assists and five rebounds to help Sacramento win for the fifth time in six games.

Bennedict Mathurin scored 31 points for the Pacers, who shot 54.1 percent from the field but were hurt by 21 turnovers to fall to 4-8 in their last 12 games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has full faith in new Milwaukee Bucks coach Doc Rivers despite his opening defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Monday.

Rivers made his Bucks bow on the sideline in Denver after replacing first-year coach Adrian Griffin, but Milwaukee were beaten 113-107 by another of the NBA's best teams.

An NBA champion as coach of the Boston Celtics in 2008, Rivers is vastly experienced but is taking over a team in the middle of a season for the first time.

There will be an adjustment period, but that is something superstar Antetokounmpo is prepared for.

"He was great," the two-time MVP said of Rivers. "Everybody has to have patience. It's new – the way we play, the way we defend, it's going to take a while to get used to.

"We're slowly, slowly adjusting, changing a couple stuff. Coaching staff have got to have patience with the players; players have got to have patience with the coaching staff.

"But I feel like for the first game, it was good."

Indeed, for all the criticism of the Bucks' defense, Rivers felt the blame for the loss to the Nuggets lay with an offense led by Antetokounmpo and offseason signing Damian Lillard.

"I told our guys: anyone who told you that you couldn't play defense lied," Rivers said afterwards. "You proved that tonight. You competed tonight. Our half-court defense was excellent.

"I think tonight was an offensive loss. I didn't think we were crisp offensively.

"Dame and Giannis have played 40 games together in their life, Joker [Nikola Jokic] and [Jamal] Murray have played... you know?

"And if you looked at the game tonight, they had it going, our guys couldn't get it going, and that was the difference."

If not for Rivers' return to the coaching arena, the focus in this game would have been on a battle between Antetokounmpo and Jokic that the Nuggets center edged, finishing with a triple-double of 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists.

"That's why I play, to play these kinds of games, to play under the pressure, to play tight games," Jokic said. "I like to play under those circumstances."

Anthony Edwards scored 27 points and helped spark a late run that propelled the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 107-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in a clash of teams that had been tied for the Western Conference lead. 

Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Rudy Gobert amassed 12 points and 18 rebounds as the Timberwolves bounced back from Saturday's one-point loss at Sacramento and dropped the Thunder to third place in the tightly bunched conference standings.

The Denver Nuggets moved a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City and remained a half-game behind Minnesota with Monday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Oklahoma City had erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit to take a 97-96 lead on two Shai Gilgeous-Alexander free throws with 2:43 left, but Minnesota's Jaden McDaniels hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to start a pivotal 9-0 spurt.

The Thunder would miss their next four shots as the Timberwolves began pulling away. Edwards followed McDaniels' trey with a running dunk and McDaniels scored on a tip-in before Towns capped the run with two free throws that put Minnesota up 105-97 with 15.5 seconds to go. 

Minnesota owned a 62-52 advantage nearing the midway mark of the third quarter before the Thunder seized momentum with an 11-0 run. Gilgeous-Alexander had six points and Jalen Williams scored the last five of the flurry, which gave Oklahoma City a 63-62 edge with five minutes left in the period.

The Thunder, who were coming off a stunning 120-104 loss to the NBA-worst Detroit Pistons on Sunday, received 37 points and eight assists from Gilgeous-Alexander and 20 points from Williams. 

Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City's third-leading scorer at 17 points per game, was held to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting, however, as the Timberwolves finished with a 46-34 point advantage in the paint.

Jokic has another triple-double as Nuggets spoil Rivers' debut with Bucks

Jamal Murray scored 35 points and Nikola Jokić posted his 14th triple-double of the season to power the Denver Nuggets to a 113-107 win over Milwaukee in Doc Rivers' first game as the Bucks' head coach.

Jokic compiled 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists to add to his league-leading triple-double count and help the defending NBA champions keep pace with first-place Minnesota in the West. The Nuggets have now won five of their last six games.

Rivers, who coached the Boston Celtics to an NBA title during the 2007-08 season, was hired shortly after the Bucks dismissed Adrian Griffin on Jan. 23 despite sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-13 record. Assistant Joe Prunty coached Milwaukee's last three games and went 2-1.

The veteran coach's tenure started off strong as the Bucks jumped out to a 24-11 lead midway through the first quarter, though the Nuggets ended the period on a 12-0 run to cut their deficit to 26-25 entering the second. 

Denver gradually asserted control and owned an 84-75 advantage early in the fourth quarter, but the Bucks hit three straight 3-pointers during a 13-2 spurt that put them back ahead with under nine minutes to play.

The game remained tight until the Nuggets pulled away with an 8-0 run, which Murray capped with a jumper that gave Denver a 106-97 lead with 3:17 to go.

Giannis Antetokounmpo paced Milwaukee with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting along with 12 rebounds, while Brook Lopez had 19 points and Damian Lillard finished with 18 in the loss. 

Suns bounce back by handing Heat seventh straight loss

The Phoenix Suns kept rolling behind a balanced attack and strong defence that resulted in a 118-105 victory over the reeling Miami Heat, the seventh consecutive loss for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Eric Gordon scored 23 points off the bench to lead six Phoenix players in double figures in a game the Suns led by as much as 28 points en route to stopping a two-game losing streak.

The Suns also got 22 points from Devin Booker and 20 from Kevin Durant, with both stars finishing with eight rebounds and seven assists each.

Miami went 14 of 36 from 3-point range but was stonewalled from inside the arc, shooting a subpar 39.6 per cent on 2-point attempts in this latest defeat. The Heat have lost seven straight for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 26 points and recent acquisition Terry Rozier had 21 in his fourth game with the Heat.

Miami shot just 35.4 per cent in the first half as the Suns built a 62-49 lead at the break, and its shooting woes continued as Phoenix extended the margin in the third quarter. 

Booker had 12 points and the Suns shot over 68 per cent for the period to open up a commanding 100-74 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

The Denver Nuggets "played like a tired team" in their defeat to the New York Knicks, said head coach Michael Malone.

Denver – who sit third in the Western Conference – were beaten 122-84 in Thursday's road game.

Nikola Jokic had 31 points and 11 rebounds, but the Nuggets could not extend their three-game winning streak.

Thursday's game was the Nuggets' second in the space of 48 hours, and Malone believes the fatigue showed.

"We played like a very tired team," Malone said.

"I thought it was a very disappointing ending to the road trip.

"You never want to get blown out, which is what happened tonight. And we live to fight another day.

"All of our focus right now is getting home, getting some rest tomorrow, and thankful that the NBA gave us a matinee game [against the Philadelphia 76ers] on Saturday."

Jokic took a poke to the eye from Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo during the second quarter.

"It was painful of course, but hopefully it's going to be OK," said the two-time MVP, who added: "[The Knicks] were just more aggressive. One team basically on the floor today. We were not there today."

OG Anunoby led the Knicks with 26 points, and Malone labelled the small forward as "outstanding".

"There's a reason the crowd was chanting 'OG.' He was outstanding," Malone said.

"He brings defense. He brings offense. He brings toughness. He brings physicality.

"He and the rest of the guys in the New York Knicks uniforms tonight, they were terrific from beginning to end."

The Knicks, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference, have won their last five games.

Nikola Jokic scored 31 points as part of his league-leading 13th triple-double of the season and Jamal Murray also had 31 points to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 114-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.

Jokic sealed Denver’s third straight win with a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining. He leads all active players with 118 triple-doubles.

Myles Turner had 22 points and Pascal Siakam added 16 with 10 rebounds in his first home game since the Pacers acquired him from Toronto last week.

Indiana lost its third in a row overall and eighth straight against Denver.

The Nuggets took a 93-81 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Pacers took the lead 103-102 on Ben Sheppard’s 3-pointer with 3:42 left.

Jokic’s layup with 1:38 to play gave Denver the lead for good and Murray’s running finger roll 22 seconds later made it 111-107.

McCollum sinks 9 3-pointers as Pelicans erupt

CJ McCollum matched his season high with 33 points and went 9 for 13 from 3-point range as the New Orleans Pelicans set a franchise scoring record in a 153-124 win over the Utah Jazz.

Zion Williamson added 17 points and a career-high 11 assists and Herb Jones scored 22 points for the Pelicans, who surpassed their previous franchise record of 149 points in a win over Sacramento in October 2018.

McCollum shot 11 of 17 from the field and New Orleans connected on half its attempts from long range (23 of 46) as part of a 57.7 percent overall shooting effort.

Brunson, Randle team up to keep Knicks hot

Jalen Brunson had 30 points and Julius Randle flirted with a second straight triple-double as the New York Knicks rallied for a 108-103 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Donte DiVincenzo scored 11 points and OG Anunoby added 10 for the Knicks, who have won four straight and improved to 10-2 since acquiring Anunoby from Toronto.

Randle finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists after he had 18 points, 16 boards and 10 assists in Saturday’s win over the Raptors.

Mikal Bridges scored 36 points with a career-high seven 3-pointers for the Nets, who entered the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead, just two nights after squandering an 18-point advantage in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

Nikola Jokic displayed just why he is such a stellar talent as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Washington Wizards, so says Michael Malone.

Jokic scored a season-high 42 points, adding 12 rebounds and eight assists, as the Nuggets won 113-104 on Sunday.

It marked Jokic's highest points tally since he scored 46 against the New Orleans Pelicans in June 2022.

The Nuggets are now 30-14 for the season and are third in the Western Conference, and coach Malone was effusive in his praise for the 28-year-old.

"Nikola was phenomenal tonight from beginning to end," Malone said.

"He continues to illustrate why he's the player that he is."

Even though the Nuggets were playing on the road, there were chants of "MVP" from the crowd as Jokic sank his final free throws of the game.

"That's unique," Malone said.

"It doesn't happen very often, so I think it's just recognising greatness.

"Here's a guy who was a two-time MVP as a second-round draft pick that brought a franchise its first world championship in history, and he's a Finals MVP as well."

Despite having lost their last four games in a row, Malone believes the Wizards provided a stern challenge to his team.

He said: "That’s what happens when you're the reigning world champs.

"You have to be up for those games because you know you're going to be getting everybody's best."

Nikola Jokic honoured the memory of his former mentor Dejan Milojevic by starring in the Denver Nuggets' crucial road win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, says coach Michael Malone.

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Milojevic died at the age of 46 on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack, prompting an outpouring of emotion across the NBA.

Before his arrival in San Francisco, Milojevic was credited with kickstarting the career of two-time NBA MVP Jokic when the duo worked together at Belgrade-based team KK Mega Basket.

On Friday, Denver had the daunting task of attempting to halt Boston's 20-0 run at TD Garden this season, and Jokic's 34 points helped them on their way to a huge win over a fellow championship contender.  

Jokic also added 12 rebounds and nine assists while Jamal Murray finished with 35 points as the defending champions improved to 29-14.

Speaking after the game, Nuggets coach Malone expressed pride in Jokic and said the events of recent days made his dominant performance all the more impressive.

"As I mentioned to our team after the game, I couldn't be more proud of Nikola for playing the way he played with the tragic passing of Deki," Malone said. 

"That's what you do, though. That's why I'm proud of Nikola. You just lost somebody that you love and you care about that meant a lot to you, that was a mentor and a coach to you.

"So go honour him. You know what I mean? Nikola went out there, he honoured Deki's memory and his legacy by playing at the level he played at.

"It's not easy to do with a heavy heart, but Nikola is a special person, obviously. It was incredible to watch him play with that heavy heart, when you consider who we were playing and you add everything else to the mix.

"That's why Nikola is the best player in the world."

The Celtics found themselves 98-95 up with just under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but they missed eight of their final nine shots – four of them from Jayson Tatum – to allow the Nuggets back in.

Malone feels the victory amounted to a statement from his team, saying: "You're playing against the best team in the NBA. It was like a playoff game. 

"I know this is only Game 43, 44, whatever it is, but it was kind of like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere and two really good teams. 

"They were in the Finals two years ago. They were in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. They have high hopes, as do we.

"It was a game that we were all in. We put all of our chips in and we were lucky enough to get the outcome that we desired."

Nikola Jokic lauded Joel Embiid's "historic" form after the reigning NBA MVP came out on top in Tuesday's matchup between the two superstars.

Embiid finished with 41 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists, scoring 10 consecutive points in a crucial fourth-quarter run as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Denver Nuggets 126-121.

Jokic, the reigning NBA Finals MVP and two-time league MVP, scored 24 points and had 19 rebounds and three assists.

Embiid was unable to extend his 16-game streak of having at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, though only Wilt Chamberlain has had a longer such run in NBA history.

"He's a really good player," Jokic said of Embiid.

"He's playing historic right now. He's averaging 30-something points every night, and that's extremely hard to do, especially every night.

"But I mean, I'm not playing against him. I'm playing against Philadelphia. It was a good matchup."

Embiid returned the compliment Jokic's way, saying: "Both of us, we just want to play basketball and win some games.

"He deserves [the title of best player] until you knock him [off]. He's the Finals MVP. Until someone else takes that away, then you can claim that."

Not that Embiid is lacking self-confidence.

"But then again, I also believe in myself," he added with a smile. "I'll keep it at that. I've just got to get there.

"I don't think I care what people decide who's the best. I know I want to be the best, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to be the best.

"But sometimes you've got to be able to win as a team. You've got to do the best job possible to make sure that you put yourself and the team in the best position possible to win. And it seems like if you want to be the best, you've got to find a way to win. So, that's my goal."

The Sixers have won their last three games. They sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 26-13 record, behind the Milwaukee Bucks (28-12) and the Boston Celtics (31-9).

"I said it at the beginning of the season. Y'all keep talking about Boston, Milwaukee. That's fine. They might be better than us, they might be more talented than us, but I still believe we've got a chance. We just need a little bit of luck," Embiid said.

"Like I always say, we've got to be perfect. We've got to be in sync together. We've got to play with each other. It's been working pretty well this year."

Embiid's teammate Tobias Harris, who added 24 points to the Sixers' tally, added: "It was a big game for us – playing the defending champs – we wanted to see where we were at.

"We've just got to stay at it, and keep working."

Asked about playing alongside Embiid and against Jokic, Harris said: "Both of those guys are just stellar basketball players. The way they handle their business on a court, there's a reason why [the Nuggets] won a Championship last year and Joel's put in tremendous work all year."

The Nuggets have been inconsistent after going on a six-game winning streak in December, losing four of their nine outings since then.

Coach Michael Malone, though, did not seem overly concerned about Tuesday's defeat.

"This was a game that went down to the wire," he said. 

"We came up short. Joel [Embiid] is a hell of a talent."

Joel Embiid had 41 points and 10 rebounds and got the best of fellow superstar Nikola Jokić in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 126-121 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

In a matchup of the last two NBA MVPs, Embiid had his 18th straight 30-point game, tying Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor for the sixth-longest streak in NBA history.

Jokic had 25 points and 19 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards.

Embiid converted a 3-point play with 5:30 remaining to extend Philadelphia’s lead to 118-113 and followed with his third 3-pointer of the game for an eight-point advantage.

Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points and Tobias Harris added 24 for the 76ers, who have won three straight after a three-game skid.

Michael Porter Jr. had 20 points and Jamal Murray finished with 17 and 10 assists for the Nuggets.

 

Suns stun Kings with furious comeback

Kevin Durant made two free throws with 1.8 seconds left and the Phoenix Suns stunned the Sacramento Kings with a game-ending 23-4 run in a 119-117 victory.

Grayson Allen matched a franchise record with 9 3-pointers and scored 29 points for the Suns, who faced a 113-96 deficit with just over five minutes to play.

Allen sparked the run with a 3-pointer and Durant hit a pair from deep before Eric Gordon drained consecutive 3-pointers to forge a 115-all tie.

Durant’s free throws with 30 seconds to play put the Suns ahead 117-115 but De’Aaron Fox tied it with a jumper with 19 seconds remaining. But he then fouled Durant, who was attempting a long jumper.

Domantas Sabonis notched his 11th triple-double of the season with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for Sacramento.

 

George scores 38 in Clippers’ win

Paul George scored 18 of his season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 128-117 for their ninth win in 11 games.

Kawhi Leonard each added 16 points and Mason Plumlee had a season-best 14 in his first start of the season for the Clippers, who won their sixth straight at home.

Jalen Williams scored 25 points and Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander contributed 19 apiece as Oklahoma City dropped its second in a row after a 9-3 stretch.

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