The Denver Nuggets came up clutch late against the Sacramento Kings on the road, winning 113-106 in the first of back-to-back games in Sacramento.

Without Aaron Gordon, a late scratch due to a right shoulder injury, the Nuggets needed a variety of contributions from a variety of players. Michael Porter Jr. stepped up and scored 30 efficient points, playing solid defense all the while. Jamal Murray scored 25 points and dished seven assists. Nikola Jokić had a near triple double with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 11 assists.

The Sacramento Kings were without Domantas Sabonis, who injured his thumb in the previous game. De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Huerter each stepped up in his absence with 20+ points, but the Nuggets turned on the jets in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets outscored the Kings 21-14 in the final five minutes. Sacramento just couldn’t keep up.

Seven different players played off the bench for Denver. Zeke Nnaji started, but the rest of the bench found ways to contribute too. Vlatko Čančar played 30 minutes and had two important three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Christian Braun came up with some big hustle plays. Even Davon Reed hit an important three-pointer.

Overall, a strong team effort from the Nuggets, who move to 22-11 and remain atop the Western Conference standings.

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets first of two games in Sacramento against the Kings on Tuesday night:

Michael Porter Jr. steps up in Aaron Gordon’s absence

With Aaron Gordon a late scratch due to a right shoulder injury (will likely play tomorrow night), Zeke Nnaji stepped in as the starting power forward. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great night for Zeke, who fouled out in 15 minutes and didn’t score a point. So, the Nuggets starters had to pick up the slack a bit, Michael Porter Jr. especially.

In his third game back from an extended absence, Porter absolutely delivered. He started the game slow but got hot in the second quarter, carrying the Nuggets through a difficult stretch when nobody could hit an outside jumper. Porter hit a deep three to cap off a strong rally from the Nuggets bench that put them back within striking distance of the Kings before halftime.

In the second half, Porter did more of the same, playing solid all-around defense, cutting off-ball, and hitting important shots within the flow of the offense. He finished the game with 30 points on 12-of-20 from the field and 5-of-9 from three-point range, his best scoring outing in a long while.

The Nuggets know Porter’s capable of this, and he stepped up exactly when needed to help bring home the victory. Finding ways to get him more shots in rhythm will remain a large priority for the Nuggets, because it gave the rest of the team some breathing room scoring wise.

Nikola Jokić makes the few shots count

Throughout the game, Jokić was more than happy to make the open pass. As it turns out, those passes came around very frequently with the Kings doubling him to get the ball out of his hands. Early on, Jokić was hitting open shooters and cutters, but missed threes and layups drained the momentum out of Denver’s early game offense, allowing the Kings to roar out to a big lead in the second quarter.

Jokić found ways to score though, drawing fouls and bullying his way to the middle of the paint for layups and floaters. Most of his possessions resulted in passes, but it was because he was such a threat to score that the Kings elected to continue getting picked apart at times.

Jokić finished the game with 20 points on just 7-of-10 from the field, hitting all six of his free throws in this process. He added 11 assists and nine rebounds, coming up with some important defensive stops late. His verticality on what was initially called a foul was challenged by Malone and later reversed, giving the Nuggets some momentum that they ran with late in the game.

It was good to see Denver’s other players finding ways to score with Jokić drawing as much attention as he was.

Jamal Murray settled in and delivered

Murray began the game 2-of-8 from the field, hitting two early three-pointers but struggling to get his legs under him on other scoring possessions. It took him awhile to settle in, but once he did, the Nuggets simply started rolling. His two-man game with Jokić yielded open shot after open shot. He found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a clutch three-pointer at the end of the game while knifing into the paint.

But sometimes, it’s better to be a bit lucky than good.

Murray has made it a bit of a habit to come up big in the clutch lately. He finished with 25 points and 7 assists tonight compared to just one turnover. He had some good moments with the bench unit and some great moments with Joker. Those two helped the Nuggets combined for 21 points in the final five minutes, running two-man game and generating open shot after open shot.

Murray may not play in the back-to-back tomorrow night against the Kings, and he will have earned the rest. He has averaged 40.1 minutes per game in the three games he’s played since returning from knee injury management. Sitting on the back-to-back feels like the right call, and the training staff may have to step in and ensure that happens.

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