TORONTO – Jamal Murray briefly interrupted his postgame media session, looked to his left and laughed at Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ irreverent superstar.
Jokc, moments after his second-triple double of the season, was bobbing his head and jamming to what the Nuggets’ center described as a combination of Serbian pop/rock.
“Look at him,” Murray said, a throng of mostly Canadian media surrounding Denver’s ascendant point guard. “That’s what I deal with every day. He’s just fun to play with.”
Murray could’ve been referring to the light attitude Jokic brings to the locker room, or the carefree way he dissects defenses. Either would’ve been applicable.
“He does everything,” said Murray, who had 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds along with seven turnovers in his Canadian homecoming. “He passes, rebounds, handles the ball. There’s nothing he can’t do except jump.”
Jokic shredded Toronto’s eighth-ranked defensive outfit for 23 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds as the Nuggets won 106-103 for their sixth win in a row. They improved to 16-7 overall, tied for first in the Western Conference. The Raptors, who entered with the NBA’s best record at 20-4, had their eight-game winning streak snapped.
“I don’t know,” Jokic said. “The guys were making shots, I was passing the ball. We had a really good energy on our bench. Everybody who played did something good in the game. A little bit of everything.”
The only thing that marred the Nuggets’ improbable road win was Gary Harris’ injury. He left with a hip injury late in the first quarter after he was fouled on a driving layup. Harris will have an MRI tomorrow, and the Nuggets will have a better idea what his status is going forward.
Harris, one game removed from a 27-point outburst vs. Portland, missed the prior two games with an ankle injury.
“The one thing I feel awful about is Gary Harris,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Definitely keep Gary in our thoughts. He’s frustrated, just getting back from an injury, and to have that, not be able to come back in tonight. We’ll see how severe the injury is and hopefully we can get him back really soon, but Gary’s such a big part of what we’re trying to do.”
The Nuggets overcame the loss of Harris and several awful turnovers down the stretch as the Raptors were surging. At one point, with less than a minute left, the Raptors took a 101-100 lead on a Kawhi Leonard jumper. Huge contributions from Malik Beasley (15 points) and Torrey Craig (eight points, four rebounds) made the injury manageable.
“Our locker room is getting lonelier and lonelier,” Malone said, referring to injured players Will Barton, Isaiah Thomas, Jarred Vanderbilt and Michael Porter Jr. “There’s not many bodies in there. But we never make excuses, we don’t make explanations. We find ways.”
Road Warriors: The anatomy of the Nuggets’ winning streak makes it even more impressive. Their four road wins – at Minnesota, at Oklahoma City, at Portland and at Toronto – have come in places where their opponents have a combined 37-14 home record.
They have the 13th best offensive rating since Nov. 21, when they beat the Timberwolves, but their defense is third in the NBA over that span.
Up 102-101 with 27 seconds left, the Nuggets put together one of their finest defensive sequences on a night when Denver held the Raptors to just 11 of 41 from the 3-point line. Murray had a strong closeout and contest against Danny Green, the Raptors recovered the offensive rebound after a wild scramble, and then Jokic flung himself out by the 3-point line to contest another Green attempt. Juancho Hernangomez eventually recovered the miss, was fouled and made one of two.
“That’s a timely defensive stop,” Malone said. “It’s not always right, it’s not always pretty, but finding a way to not only get the stop but come up with the loose ball, come up with the rebound. That toughness, that mindset of ‘Let’s get as many stops as possible.’ This is a hell of a win for a young team that is kind of growing up before everybody’s eyes.”
Player of the Week: Paul Millsap didn’t play particularly well Monday, but he said his Player of the Week honor mattered to him only because of what it signified,
“It means a lot, especially on a team that’s winning,” Millsap said. “To me, that’s all that matters. Numbers and all that’s stuff gonna come. It’s not a big deal to me. Wins and losses, that’s all I care about.”
That attitude is becoming pervasive around the Nuggets’ locker room. They’ll try for their seventh in a row Wednesday in Orlando.
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