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Nikola Jokic scores 31, Nuggets pull away from Wizards 118-104

Nikola Jokic scores 31, Nuggets pull away from Wizards 118-104

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 31 points and 12 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets shook off a slow start and beat the short-handed Washington Wizards 118-104 on Wednesday night.

Michael Porter Jr. added 21 points and Jamal Murray had 17 for Western Conference-leading Denver. Trailing by two points af halftime, Murray was also among those with emotional words for the Nuggets.

“We needed that,” Jokic said of Murray’s words. “And we know what we needed to do. Because the postseason is going to be really short if we play like we played in the first half.”

The Nuggets went 15 for 32 from beyond the arc and finished a season-high five-game trip with three wins.

The trip began with a loss in Toronto that was the last setback in a season-worst four-game slide.

“Every team in the NBA, I think, has had that bad run,” Jokic said. “Hopefully it’s done for us and we survive it. And hopefully we’re going to play better now.”

Kristaps Porzingis scored 25 points for the Wizards, who were without three-time All-Star guard Bradley Beal due to left knee soreness.

Deni Avdija added 16 points for Washington, which lost its fourth straight. Washington entered the game in 12th place in the East and 2 1/2 games back of Chicago for the final play-in spot.

Beal had played 31 minutes and scored 16 points in Tuesday’s 122-112 loss at Orlando. Forward Kyle Kuzma (right ankle) also missed a second straight start.

“It’s frustrating of course, but we can’t control the circumstances,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said “It’s just more, how do we respond to the circumstances? That to me is more important. It’s an indication of who we are collectively and individually.”

Neither team led by more than six before halftime. Denver opened up a 21-point lead after outscoring Washington 39-16 in the third quarter.

The Nuggets began the period hitting their first four shots — three from beyond the arc — and ended it with an 8-0 spurt, punctuated by Bruce Brown’s running dunk followed by Jeff Green’s corner 3 with 0.3 seconds left.

“We cared, finally,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I challenged our guys in a big way at halftime. The way we played in that first half, that can’t be who we are.”

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Finished the season 8-7 on the road against Eastern Conference teams while improving to 19-18 in their travels overall. ... Jokic had seven assists, falling three short of his 29th triple-double this season. ... Murray had eight assists and six rebounds.

Wizards: Shot a season-worst 4 of 26 (15.4%) from beyond the arc. ... Jordan Goodwin scored 12 points and was the only other Washington player in double figures. ... Beal missed his 23rd game of the season and his first since a Feb. 6 home loss to Cleveland. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said pregame that Beal is day to day.

HINT OF HOME

Wednesday felt slightly more like home two Nuggets.

Green hit two of his three 3-point attempts and finished with 11 points off the bench in the same building where he used to star for the Georgetown Hoyas. Jokic enjoyed support from a sizable Serbian fan presence, with the Wizards even hosting folk dancers of his home country’s tradition at half.

“I mean I love it,” Jokic said. “I always say the Serbian fans are probably the best fans in the world. Our language, our energy, our flags. I love it.”

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Begin a three-game homestand Saturday against Milwaukee.

Wizards: Host San Antonio on Friday.

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