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Jokic scores 41 points and leads Nuggets past Timberwolves 116-107 to take lead in West

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Jokic scores 41 points and leads Nuggets past Timberwolves 116-107 to take lead in West
April 11, 2024
ARNIE STAPLETON - AP

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic scored 41 points and powered the Denver Nuggets past Minnesota and into sole possession of first place in the tight Western Conference playoff race with a 116-107 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

Jokic made 16 of 20 shots against the NBA's best defense while being guarded most of the night by the league's top defender, Rudy Gobert. Jamal Murray added 20 points in 27 minutes and Michael Porter Jr. scored 18.

Anthony Edwards led Minnesota with 25 points but was a non-factor in the fourth quarter as Denver pulled away. Mike Conley added 19 points for the Wolves.

The Nuggets (56-24) took a one-game lead over Minnesota and Oklahoma City, who are both 55-25. The Thunder walloped San Antonio 127-89 on Wednesday night to stay within striking distance of the West's top seed.

The defending NBA champion Nuggets are a Western Conference-best 33-8 at home. Denver and Minnesota split their season series 2-all, and the Nuggets need to finish ahead of the Thunder and the Wolves, who have the better division winning percentage and therefore the tiebreaker, to earn their second straight No. 1 seed.

The Nuggets parlayed the top seed last year into a 10-1 run at home in the playoffs on the way to their first NBA championship.

The Nuggets wrap up their regular season with games at San Antonio and Memphis. The Wolves and Thunder both finish up at home. Minnesota hosts the Hawks and Suns, and the Thunder close with games against the Bucks and Mavericks.

On Tuesday night, Jokic downplayed the significance of this game, saying, "I don’t think it’s a really big game.” Edwards, though, insisted this was as big as a regular-season game can get: “I think everyone knows what is at stake,” Edwards said. "I don’t even need to talk about how big it is — everybody knows.”

That dichotomy revealed the difference in the teams' approaches.

Entering the playoffs at optimum health is more important than going into the postseason as the top seed in the West, suggested Denver coach Michael Malone, who's been saying for weeks that he's confident his team can win anywhere, anytime, regardless of seeding. He had both Murray (knee) and Aaron Gordon (foot) on minutes restrictions.

“We'd gladly take the 1 seed, but much more important for me is making sure our players are healthy and available come playoff time,” Malone said pregame, adding, “There's so many teams that could come out of the West this year.”

The Wolves were at less than full strength in the playoffs a year ago but still gave the Nuggets the hardest time of any opponent on Denver's journey to the title.

With Karl-Anthony Towns set to return to action as soon as this weekend, the Timberwolves are swaggering into the playoffs instead of staggering in as they did last year.

Denver's salubrity-over-seeding philosophy led to widespread speculation that Murray would skip the second night of this back-to-back Wednesday after returning just last week from a knee injury that had sidelined him for seven games.

The Wolves led most of the night but Denver closed the third quarter on a 9-1 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth. The Nuggets' second unit extended the margin to 91-87 before Jokic and Murray returned with 7 1/2 minutes remaining, and Denver used a 10-0 spurt to pull away.

Nuggets reserve Peyton Watson had six blocks, giving him 13 in the last three games.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: Host the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

Nuggets: Visit the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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