DENVER — Nikola Jokic was split in his opinion over which play stood out more.
The candidates: Facundo Campazzo's backward, between-the-legs pass to Monte Morris for a layup, and Bol Bol turning in a coast-to-coast dribbling clinic, punctuated by the 7-foot-2 centre's slam.
“Both are nice,” the Nuggets big man said.
Fair answer. Oklahoma City had no answers for him.
Jokic had 27 points and 12 rebounds before calling it an early night as Denver routed the Thunder 119-101 on Tuesday.
Clean shaven and sporting a new buzz cut, Jokic also had six assists before taking a seat on the bench with the other starters for the fourth quarter.
“He doesn't get a lot of credit as he should, maybe because he (isn't) flashy with the dunks,” said Morris, who had 15 points. “He's got a touch I've never really seen. He's definitely a future Hall of Famer.”
The Thunder tried everything to stop Jokic, but he was a handful for Isaiah Roby, who was giving up four inches and 50 pounds.
“Obviously, it’s a tough cover right now. But I don’t think it’s a long-term tough cover for him,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of Roby. “This is a matchup that he should be able to handle long-term. We see him as that kind of player."
Paul Millsap had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Nuggets, who have won six straight over the Thunder at home.
Luguentz Dort kept the Thunder close early by scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first half.
The Nuggets began to pull away in the second quarter and stretched it in the third before the Thunder made a little run to make things interesting.
“I told our guys, ‘This is who we’ve been all season long. We get up. We build a lead. We get lackadaisical and we give the game back. Let’s not do that again,’” Nuggets coach Michael Malone recounted.
They responded by building it back up to 26 and allowing Jokic and the rest of the starters to sit out the final quarter.
It was a much-needed confidence boost for the struggling Nuggets (7-7), who advanced to the Western Conference finals inside the NBA bubble last season. So much so that former Nuggets coach George Karl posted on social media leading up to the game: "It's early in the season to say this but the Nuggets game against the Thunder is a ‘must win’ for Denver.”
“This definitely was a must-win,” Morris said.
The Thunder played for the first time since an OT win over Chicago last Friday. Their game against Philadelphia on Sunday was postponed because the 76ers did not have the league-required eight available players to proceed because of contact tracing.
Thunder: G Ty Jerome remains in Oklahoma City to rehab a sore ankle. ... The Thunder are 5-2 on the road this season and 1-5 at home. ... G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 14 points and seven assists.
Nuggets: F Greg Whittington had knee surgery Tuesday. He will be re-evaluated in four to six weeks. ... F Will Barton had 13 points and six assists. ... Denver outscored Oklahoma City in second-chance points 32-3.
Thunder centre Al Horford missed the game after he and his wife recently welcomed a new daughter, Nova. Daigneault wasn’t sure of a timetable on his return.
“We’re really happy for him,” Daigneault said.
Malone keeps feeding the confidence of Morris. For that approach, Malone credits the sage advice once given to him by his father, longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone.
“Some of the greatest advice he gave me as a young coach, the greatest gift I can give any of our players is confidence,” Malone said. “Monte knows he has my full confidence.”
Malone on getting Jokic to look for his shot more this season: “I locked him in my office one day, and I beat him with a pillow case filled with soda cans, and said, ‘You’ve got to score more.' ... He’s a great player. He’s playing at an MVP level.”
Thunder: Face the Clippers in Los Angeles on Friday and again on Sunday.
Nuggets: Begin a five-game trip by playing in Phoenix on Friday and Saturday.
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