Jokic scores 31, Nuggets beat Rockets 136-122
DENVER (AP) — Denver couldn’t stop James Harden’s scoring streak, but the Nuggets were able to end three years of frustration against the Houston Rockets.
Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, Malik Beasley had a career-high 35 points and the Nuggets beat Houston 136-122 on Friday night to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Rockets.
Harden scored 30 points to extend his streak to 25 games of scoring 30 or more points. He needed a late 3-pointer to keep it going, and it came well after the game was in hand for Denver.
“He’s a great player, obviously one of the best scorers in the league, so to hold him to 30 after the way he’s playing, and we get the win, I’m not too disappointed,” Torrey Craig said.
Denver has won seven of its last eight overall and heads on a four-game trip at 36-15, the best start in the team’s NBA history.
“I think everybody thinks we were going to stop (winning),” Jokic said. “Twenty games ago they thought, ‘Oh they’re going to lose,’ but we’re still winning.”
The Nuggets’ last win against Houston came Dec. 14, 2015, in Denver. The Rockets swept the season series twice and won the first two games this season.
“We knew we lost nine in a row to them and we knew we wanted to come out and beat them,” Beasley said.
Harden’s streak started with a 50-point night against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 13, and nearly ended on a tough shooting night for the reigning league MVP. He hit five of his first six shots and scored 15 points in the first quarter but then went cold. He missed 10 of his next 11 shots and also missed four free throws.
He was 9 of 21 from the field and 7 for 14 from 3-point range in his lowest point output since scoring 29 against Portland on Dec. 11.
“Some of them went in, some of them didn’t,” Harden said of his shots. “That’s basketball.”
His late flurry gave Houston some late life. He hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to pull Houston within nine points, but Jokic scored six straight points to put it away. Harden’s step-back 3-pointer with 1:05 left gave him 30.
“I was trying real hard to stop him from getting 30,” said Craig, who had a career-high 22 points.
The Rockets scored 43 points in the first quarter and the Nuggets responded in the second with a 48-point outburst. They had 35 of those in the final 7:31, when they transformed a five-point deficit into an 83-71 lead at halftime.
Denver led by 20 in the third quarter, but the Rockets got within 11 late before the Nuggets pulled away.
Rockets: Kenneth Faried scored a season-high 23 points against his former team. ... The 43 points in the first period were a season best for a quarter. ... Houston is being careful with guard Chris Paul, who missed 17 games with a hamstring strain, so he will “probably” sit out Saturday’s game at Utah, coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s not definite but he probably won’t play,” D’Antoni said.
Nuggets: Denver’s 48-point second quarter matched its highest since March 16, 2008, against the Seattle SuperSonics. ... Guard Gary Harris was out due to a right adductor strain. Harris missed 11 games in December with a hip injury and five more in January with left hamstring soreness.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Jokic is the first Nuggets player in nine years to be named to the All-Star game in nine seasons. Five straight seasons without making the playoffs was one reason, so being near the top of the Western Conference helped, as well as his eight triple-doubles.
“A big part of him being named an All-Star is the level we’ve been able to win at this season and him being the biggest part of that,” coach Michael Malone said.
“He’s played at that level before, but if you’re not relevant as a team you don’t get any All-Stars,” he said. “Good for him.”
Guard Jamal Murray (left ankle sprain) missed his fourth straight game and probably won’t return soon. Murray is known for his ability to play through pain, so there is concern about how long he will be out.
“Jamal is a guy we’re not used to see miss games, so you know it’s a really serious injury he’s dealing with,” coach Michael Malone said. “I definitely have concern with Jamal’s ankle, but I know that he’ll come back ready and he’ll help us out moving forward.
Rockets: Play at Utah on Saturday night.
Nuggets: Play at Northwest Division rival Minnesota on Saturday.