CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists for his league-leading 20th triple-double and the short-handed Denver Nuggets handed the Charlotte Hornets their seventh straight defeat, 119-105 on Saturday night.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points and Bruce Brown and Michael Porter Jr. each had 14 for the Nuggets.
Denver played without Aaron Gordon (rib contusion) and Jamaal Murray (knee inflammation), but outscored the Hornets 62-45 in the second half.
Jokic now has twice as many triple-doubles as Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who was second in the league with 10 entering the weekend.
But the two-time NBA MVP said that doesn’t mean a thing to him, adding, “it’s just how I play, and I don’t even think about it.”
He was more excited about the Nuggets snapping a four-game losing streak on the road.
“It’s really important just to get back to winning after our loss (Thursday night) to Orlando,” Jokic said. “We didn’t start well, but in the second half our defense won the game.”
Jokic made light work of Hornets rookie Mark Williams and third-year player Nick Richards, using his big body to post up on the low block to seemingly score at will with overpowering moves in the lane.
When the Hornets doubled him, Jokic found open teammates.
Williams and Richards are seeing more extensive playing time after the Hornets traded Mason Plumlee to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Knowing that Mason Plumlee is not here and they have younger guys, yeah you want to try to go out there and test them,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Mark Williams is only going to get better playing through his mistakes. Nick Richards getting to play meaningful minutes off the bench will get better against guys like Nikola.
“We always say in the NBA, you have to get baptized. Young guys have to go through the fires and get their (butts) kicked once in a while. That’s how you learn, that’s how you improve and how you get better.”
This was Jokic’s second big game this season against Charlotte.
Jokic had 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists in Denver’s 119-115 win in December.
“They went to him every play,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We needed to have ways to keep him off balance, which we didn’t. He showed you why he’s been an MVP, and he may be again.”
P.J. Washington had 22 points and Gordon Hayward added 21 for Charlotte. LaMelo Ball finished with 18 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
The Hornets endured another rough night from the foul line, converting just 17 of 29 attempts. Charlotte is 28 of 52 from the stripe in its last two home games.
The Hornets jumped out to a 26-12 first-quarter lead behind 13 points from Hayward, who was 6 of 7 from the field. But the Nuggets would trim the lead to three at halftime as the Hornets faltered from the free throw line, going 2 of 11 before the break.
Denver (39-18) pulled away in the third quarter behind Jokic, Caldwell-Pope and Porter, who combined for 26 points.
BRYANT SITS OUT
Malone said he didn’t feel right playing center Thomas Bryant, who was acquired Thursday in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. Malone said he loves Bryant’s work ethic and he will soon figure into the Nuggets rotation.
Jokic said is eager to see what Bryant can do after averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds with the Lakers.
“We have to learn about him and see how he can help us and he needs to see if he can help us, too,” Jokic said. “I’m excited to have another player who can contribute and help us win.”
Nuggets: Outrebounded the Hornets 51-37. ... Shot 5 of 23 from 3-point range.
Hornets: Shot just 8 of 32 from beyond the 3-point arc.