LOS ANGELES – The triple-doubles just keep coming for Nikola Jokic, and it is no coincidence that the Denver Nuggets are flying high at the top of the National Basketball Association’s Western Conference.
The centre bagged his 13th triple-double of the season as the Nuggets overcame a 44-point display from Damian Lillard to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 122-113 on Tuesday.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Jokic said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists as Denver (31-13) extended their winning streak to seven games to move one game clear of Memphis at the top of the West.
It was the 17th 30-point triple-double of Jokic’s career, placing him in illustrious company alongside Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in seventh on the all-time rankings.
A high-scoring first half saw Denver take a 73-66 lead, with Lillard keeping Portland firmly in the hunt with 30 points in the opening two quarters.
But the Nuggets’ defensive adjustments in the second half helped them take a firm grip on the contest as they stretched away in the fourth quarter – leading by as much as 20 points at one stage – to close out the win.
“It’s always tough and it’s always interesting against them,” Jokic added. “They’re a good team with a good coach and Lillard is playing amazing right now.
“But I think in the second half we played really good defence... and that’s why we won the game.”
The Serb was one of five Denver players in double figures – Michael Porter Jr added 23 points and Jamal Murray 17. Bruce Brown had 12 off the bench while Aaron Gordon added 11.
Elsewhere, a depleted Brooklyn Nets slumped to a third straight loss in a 106-98 defeat by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Nets were missing Kevin Durant (knee) and Kyrie Irving (calf) through injury, and the absentees proved critical as Spurs star Keldon Johnson bagged a career-high 36 points and 11 rebounds.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for San Antonio, who remain one place off the bottom of the West with 14 wins and 31 defeats.
Brooklyn (27-16) have not won a game since Durant suffered his right knee injury against Miami on Jan 8.
While Brooklyn are struggling to rediscover their winning rhythm without Durant, Milwaukee once again shrugged off the loss of their star Giannis Antetokounmpo as they rolled to a 130-122 win over the Toronto Raptors.
Jrue Holiday stepped up with a season-high 37 points, with six rebounds and seven assists, as second-placed Milwaukee (29-16) edged closer to Boston (33-12) at the top of the Eastern.
In Tuesday’s other game, Joel Embiid scored 41 points as the Philadelphia 76ers overpowered the Los Angeles Clippers 120-110 on the road.
The Sixers remain third in the East at 28-16. AFP