DENVER (AP) — Denver coach Michael Malone thinks Nikola Jokic should in the MVP conversation. The young center is proving worthy of the praise.
Jokic had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists before fouling out, Wilson Chandler had 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, and the Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 122-119 on Friday night.
Jokic has a triple-double in three straight games and six this season, but didn’t stick around for the finish. He was called for five fouls in the fourth quarter and fouled out on a charge with 1:46 left.
He now has 12 triple-doubles in his young career, with his most impressive coming in Milwaukee before the All-Star break. He reached it in 16 minutes against the Bucks, which is the fastest in the NBA in 20 years.
“I’m playing the (same) way I was playing when I came here,” Jokic said.
He is averaging 23.4 points, 11 rebounds and 10.4 assists in February.
“He’s not an All-Star, he’s not in the MVP conversation, but when you look at his numbers that guy should be an All-Star. He should be in the MVP conversation,” Malone said. “He is one of the best all-around players in the game. He’s one of the best players in the NBA right now, and he’s proving it against the best teams and the best players every single night.”
Gary Harris scored 23 points to help Denver win its fourth straight and seventh in its last eight. Two of those wins have come in the last 10 days against the short-handed Spurs.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 36 points and Patty Mills scored 20 for San Antonio. The Spurs lost for the sixth time in seven games despite the return of Aldridge, who missed the last two games before the All-Star break to rest his sore right knee. He looked strong Friday, hitting 13 of 23 shots and 12 of 14 free throws.
San Antonio could be without top player Kawhi Leonard for the rest of the season. Coach Gregg Popovich said earlier this week he would be surprised if Leonard, who has played just nine games due to a right quad tendinopathy injury, will return.
“We’re very aware of the circumstances,” center Pau Gasol said. “We’re playing hard, we’re giving ourselves a chance, but as it has been for the last month or so when the schedule got a little tougher the margin of error is really small.”
The Spurs rallied from down nine in the fourth to take a two-point lead late in the game. They were 14 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on.
With the game tied at 114, Harris made a layup to put Denver up for good. Mills made a free throw and Harris scored on a step-back jumper and then a dunk with 45 seconds left to make it 120-115.
After Aldridge hit a jumper to cut it to three with 33 seconds left, Mason Plumlee’s dunk with 10 seconds to play sealed it.
Spurs: G Manu Ginobli took a shot to the chest and had an X-ray done after the game but said he was fine. “I got hit, I don’t know how and I can’t really breathe,” he said. … Gasol had 12 points and 12 rebounds. … Denver’s 63 points were the most San Antonio has allowed in the first half this season. … F Rudy Gay returned from a right heel injury and played 19 minutes. Gay missed 23 games. … G Danny Green (illness) did not play.
Nuggets: G Jamal Murray had nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists on his 21st birthday. … Plumlee returned after missing eight games with a right calf strain. … G Will Barton missed practices Wednesday and Thursday due to strep throat but was able to play. … F Torrey Craig was out with a left hamstring strain. … F Paul Millsap (left wrist surgery) has started practicing and is close to returning. He has missed 42 games.
The Nuggets honored former players Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby at halftime as part of their 50th anniversary season celebration. Popovich said he appreciated the way the 6-foot Iverson played the game.
“He’s an unbelievable competitor. He takes things personally out there on the court, he wants to win almost more than anybody,” Popovich said before the game. “It was always impressive because of his stature. He’s not that big a guy, and he’s pretty thin. Pound for pound, there’s nobody tougher. Really, a joy to watch.”
Iverson faced Popovich’s team in the playoffs once, in his first year in Denver. The Nuggets won the first game of that 2007 first-round series but San Antonio won the next five on the way to its fourth NBA title.
Spurs: At Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
Nuggets: Host Houston on Sunday night.