MIAMI – Two-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player (MVP) Nikola Jokic said Western Conference leaders Denver Nuggets “need to be concerned” after losing five of their last six games.
Jalen Brunson returned from injury on Saturday and led the New York Knicks to a 116-110 home victory over Denver.
Jokic, who had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 37 minutes, told ESPN: “It is what it is. We need to be concerned. We need to try to win the next one.”
On what has changed in this poor spell for Denver (47-24), the 28-year-old Serbian centre said: “We are forcing (shots) and not getting the extra pass.
“Even when we are getting the extra pass, we are not making shots. So, I think that’s it. And we cannot defend really well right now.”
On Saturday, though, the issue late in the game was rebounding.
Said Nuggets coach Michael Malone: “It was the rebounding, and our inability to defend without fouling.
“Now you’re playing against a set defence for 12 minutes, and then you couple that on top of turnovers. I think those are three areas that stood out to me.”
Jokic added: “Me first, and then everybody collectively, needs to do a better job of rebounding the ball, because even when we made a couple of stops, we didn’t rebound and they just got easy ones.
“They had like 15 offensive rebounds, so that’s a lot. That’s 15 chances to score again.”
A foot injury had limited point guard Brunson to just one appearance in the Knicks’ past six games but he was influential at the Madison Square Garden.
He scored 24 points and delivered the key assist, with an alley-oop pass to Mitchell Robinson that secured the triumph with 24.9 seconds left.
“I feel good, I’m happy to be back and glad we got the win. Everything feels good when you win,” said Brunson.
“I was a little worried going into it, but I mean, everything was according to plan. I didn’t feel anything, so I just kept going and kept playing.
“We kept fighting. It’s a game of runs, and they’re the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for a reason and Jokic is a two-time MVP for a reason. We kept our composure down the stretch.”
Julius Randle scored 20 points, Josh Hart added 13 and Immanuel Quickley finished with 10 for the Knicks (42-30), who have won three straight to solidify their spot among the top six teams in the East.
For Denver, Jamal Murray scored 25 points, Aaron Gordon had 14, Jeff Green added 12 and Michael Porter Jr and Bruce Brown finished with 11 apiece.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s home game against the reigning champions Golden State Warriors was the final game of Memphis Grizzlies star guard Ja Morant’s suspension after he streamed a video of himself brandishing a gun in a strip club.
Jaren Jackson Jr stepped up with 31 points while Desmond Bane contributed 26 points in a game which Memphis dominated from the outset before winning 133-119.
Golden State got within one possession twice in the fourth quarter but Memphis went on a 21-3 run to secure their fifth win in six games.
It was the 11th straight road loss for Golden State (36-36).
Morant is eligible to play in Monday’s game against Dallas but Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins indicated Wednesday’s encounter with Houston is a more realistic return date.
“Good chance he is probably out for the Monday game, because that’s going to be his first day back with the team,” he said.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue. We’ll see when he gets back in the team environment on Monday, but our anticipation is that he’s at least out for Monday, then we’ll cross the bridge on Wednesday when we get a little bit closer,” he said.
In Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz rallied late on to take a 118-117 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.
Boston (49-23) led by as many as 19 points and were up by six with 2min 31sec left.
Meanwhile, MVP contender Joel Embiid top scored with 31 points to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to their eighth straight win in the 141-121 defeat of the Indiana Pacers.