Nuggets clinch division and snap losing streak in comeback road win
It may have taken a comeback win against the NBA’s worst team but the Denver Nuggets snapped a season-worst four-game losing streak and clinched their division crown in a 119-100 victory on Thursday.
During the skid, the Nuggets were abysmal in four quarters, against the Detroit Pistons they outscored the home team 33-14. It took a solid second half overall, as the Nuggets erased a seven-point second-half Pistons lead.
Denver’s win came on the back of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. He stepped up for 30 points on 18 shots with 10 boards and nine helpers. It’s the third time Joker and head coach Michael Malone have captured the Sam Jones Trophy for winning the Northwest Division, the 12th division title in franchise history. The Nuggets’ six wins of the Northwest all-time ties the Sonics/Thunder franchise for most times winning the division since it was created ahead of the 2004-05 season.
Malone got his 400th career win as an NBA head coach, taking him five attempts. And that’s the bigger story, Denver snapped only their second four-game skid of the Jamal Murray/Jokic era when the two start. The Nuggets had played poorly for about five-and-a-half games before turning it on against the Pistons. They suffered at league doormat San Antonio and twice at home over the stretch. Denver was at risk of losing to the worst team in the NBA before turning it around and showing some of the same mojo that has earned them the top spot in the west.
“We talked about getting back to our brand of basketball and it’s always gonna start with defense,” Malone said in the postgame news conference. “We played with urgency and desperation in that second half.”
As he does in March, Christian Braun turned it on and hit some clutch shots to propel the big run that flipped the scoreboard in the Nuggets favor. Former Piston Bruce Brown, who had been struggling, quietly had a decent night contributing by stuffing the stat sheet with five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Fellow former Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope nailed four threes for the seventh time this season and for the first time in over a month. And Jamal Murray looked just okay, scoring 19 on 15 shots, a step up from his struggles of the last 10 games.
“It was great to see non-Nikola minutes go so well,” Malone said.
The Nuggets are now 47-23 with 12 games to play, including three more on this east coast road trip and Denver is now 17-17 away from Ball Arena this year. The Nuggets lead in the west once again looks insurmountable and they’re guaranteed to make the playoffs for the fifth-straight year.