Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr scored 30 a piece in Tuesday nights matchup against the Charlotte Hornets. The win secured them the 4-seed in the West and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver has been great on the road with a 20-13 which is the best road winning percentage in franchise history but Jokić knows how important home court advantage is especially with fans back in the arena.
“It is (important),” Jokić said. “Last year we were in the bubble and it was not a big deal but this year because the fans are coming back it’s going to be helpful so just to have our home court advantage is going to be a good thing for us.”
With just three games left in the regular season Michael Malone is considering resting some of his guys, if not, playing them limited minutes so that they can be fully rejuvenated come playoff time. Jokić hasn’t missed a game all season but he has had open dialogue with Malone about the possibility of sitting out for at least one of the last 3 games.
“We’ve been having an ongoing discussion about that very subject,” Malone said. “About potentially reducing minutes, potentially sitting out a game and that’s something we’ll continue to look at. On one hand I truly respect the hell out of Nikola. What he has is an immense amount of pride that he wants to play every night but we also have to be smart not only for Nikola but for our team.”
Jokić is open to sitting out but his main goal is to play every game.
“I really kind of wanted to play every game as long as I’m healthy.” Jokić said. “I’m going to think about it but I’m focused to play every game.”
Porter is also open to the idea but said he will only sit out if Jokić sits out. If not, he’s playing alongside the top MVP candidate.
“I haven’t finalized anything yet,” Porter said. “I don’t think anyone has. I haven’t even talked to Jok and I don’t think he’s even thinking about resting either and he’s going harder than any of us. He hasn’t missed a game all year so if he ain’t resting I’m definitely not resting.”
The Nuggets’ goal is obviously to eliminate injuries. They have been without key starters Jamal Murray and Will Barton and have also been without a solid contributor off the bench PJ Dozier who played some quality minutes with the starting unit before going down with a groin injury. Monté Morris has been another Nuggets player out with an injury for an extended period of time but finally got to see some limited minutes tonight.
“I’ve been working my tail off so tonight it felt good to get out there with my timing and to know everything is good. My game is good and my shot is good,” Morris said. “I know these last three games, we already clinched so I’m just going to use these to get in rhythm and probably be at 10 to 15 minutes.”
Morris hasn’t played since April 16 so Facu Campazzo has been starting in his place and has played a huge role in the Nuggets winning 11 of their last 15 games. As far as regaining control of the starting role again, Morris isn’t paying too much attention to that.
“I’m not the coach,” Morris said. “I just want to win games. Whatever they feel like is best I’m going to come in and do me. He has been playing amazing. He’s getting big minutes and playing great on both ends. Whatever direction they lean towards I’m just going to be the best version of myself.”
Denver bounced back in a big way after a 2-game skid against the first place Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets. They were both close games but Malone wanted his team to come out with a sense of urgency tonight and that they did.
“We wanted to find a way not only to clinch but get back to doing good of how we were playing,” Malone said. “That was my challenge pregame and also at halftime… Having lost two games in a row, you don’t want to get into the habit of losing three to four games in a row. I did not want to go into the post season on a losing streak. You have to find ways to win even when guys are out.”
The Nuggets had a 21-point lead in the first quarter at one point and went up 38-18 with 1:58 left. They then went scoreless for the rest of the quarter as the Hornets went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 12. Michael Porter Jr had 16 points in the first quarter on 4 of 5 from three. Nikola Jokic had 10 points and 5 rebounds.
Charlotte opened the second quarter on a 9-4 run and eventually got to within 2 points after Devonte’ Graham hit a three. Cody Zeller took control of the quarter scoring 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting and grabbed 5 boards. The Hornets out-rebounded the Nuggets 17-9 in the quarter and scored 24 points in the paint while the Nuggets only scored 12. Denver struggled from the field going 9 of 21 but still hung onto the lead 63-60.
Third quarter, Jokić assisted on all of Aaron Gordon’s shots. He scored 7 in the quarter. Two dunks and one three-pointer. Jokić put up 11 points and started attacking the paint. He went to the free throw line seven times. Terry Rozier kept the game close scoring 11 of his 21 points in the third. Denver stayed up 91-86.
Fourth quarter, things got a little interesting. The Nuggets had a 13-point lead until Graham went off again for 8 straight points to get the Hornets within 5 with 4:11 left to play. Denver called a timeout and got a much needed bucket from Jokić. Graham responded with another big three to get Charlotte within one. The score was 107-106. Then JaMychal Green scored and Campazzo followed it up with a three-pointer that would seal the Nuggets win 117-112.
After the game, Tim Connelly, president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets, told Malone that the Nuggets were the only team in the western conference to have gained home court advantage in all three of the last playoffs.
“I just think that’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Malone said. “Our players and our coaches and our trainers and everybody deserve so much credit because that’s not easy to do.”
The Nuggets play their last three games on the road in Minnesota, Detroit and Portland and still have a chance to steal the 3-seed from the Clippers.