LOS ANGELES: The Denver Nuggets continued their march toward the Western Conference top seed Monday with a 116-111 win over Philadelphia, while the Sacramento Kings’ hopes of ending a 16-year NBA playoff drought remained on hold. Two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic had his 29th triple-double of the season for Denver with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists.
But he was unhappy that the Nuggets let a 20-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to just three with 28.9 seconds remaining against a Sixers team missing star center Joel Embiid and playmaker James Harden. “We didn’t do a good job today,” Jokic said. “We had control of the whole game, and then in the fourth quarter, we lost control. We took bad shots, we didn’t play defense, and that’s why they came back.” The Nuggets pushed their lead to three and a half games over Memphis atop the West with a fourth straight victory.
The absence of MVP candidate Embiid took some shine off the contest, but Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said the decision to hold him out because of a sore calf was “not a hard decision for us. “We want to get him and the whole team healthy for the playoffs,” Rivers said. The stage was set for a celebration in Sacramento, but the Minnesota Timberwolves crashed the party with a 119-115 victory over the Kings, who could have sealed their first playoff berth since 2006 with a victory.
Jaden McDaniels scored 20 points to lead seven Minnesota players in double figures as they notched a fourth straight win and tied reigning champions Golden State for sixth in the West. Trailing by one entering the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves gradually pulled away, a dunk by McDaniels giving them a 114-104 lead with 3:52 to play – to the dismay of the sell-out crowd at the Golden 1 Center. De’Aaron Fox scored 29 points and Domantas Sabonis added 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who are third in the West and will try again this week to end the longest active playoff drought in any major US professional sports league.
Elsewhere, there was good news for the slumping Dallas Mavericks, who snapped a four-game skid with a 127-104 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 25 points – starting the game after the NBA rescinded the technical foul he was assessed in a loss at Charlotte on Sunday, which would have been his 16th of the season and triggered an automatic one-game suspension. Doncic made the most of the reprieve, adding seven rebounds and six assists – one of them an impressive side-armed pass across the court to rookie Jaden Hardy for a three-pointer when Doncic himself couldn’t get a shot off in the face of a fierce double team.
“I didn’t think he saw me at first,” Hardy said. “Then, when saw me, I didn’t think he was going to be able to get it to me. But he did … so I was like, I’ve got to knock this down for him.” Mavs coach Jason Kidd wasn’t surprised. “He’s one of the best passers in the league,” Kidd said. “He can find guys – he’s strong enough, I don’t know if anybody else can make that pass.” Kyrie Irving added 16 points and six assists for the Mavericks, who are half a game behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the hunt for the final two Western Conference play-in tournament berths.
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton scored a season-high 34 points as the Bucks improved their NBA-best record with a 126-117 victory over the Detroit Pistons despite the absence of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo, out with a sore knee, was just one of the Bucks’ high-profile absentees, with Jrue Holiday away for personal reasons and Jae Crowder sidelined by a calf injury. In New York, Immanuel Quickley scored 40 points to help the Knicks rout the Houston Rockets 137-115. Julius Randle added 26 points for New York, who are holding down fifth place in the East. – AFP