Nikola Jokic had another speculator performance on the national stage, leaving little doubt he should be the league’s back-to-back MVP.

He put up 38 points, 18 rebounds and six assists in a 129-118 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon. The Denvers Nuggets’ defense was non-existent in the first half and they got torched in the paint. But, they managed to close out a tough battle in the fourth quarter at Arena. 

“It’s very satisfying given the situation with four games to go,” Michael Malone said. “This was an important road win. We’ve been a great road team all season long and this being our last road game of the regular season it was great to get a win.” 

Will Barton also had himself a game. He hit some crucial baskets down the stretch and put up 17 of his 25 points in the second half. Will “The Thrill” also went 6-of-8 from beyond the arc for the game. He has been dealing with lingering knee discomfort and was a game-time decision to play. 

“I was real close,” Barton said to his chances of missing Sunday’s game. “Still got some ground to make up so I wanted to give it my best out there and compete and get these wins and stay out of the play-in.” 

The Nuggets have been very vocal about their goal of staying out of the play-in tournament and just a few games ago they were on the cusp of dropping to seventh place in the Western Conference. Now they’re a half game ahead of the Utah Jazz in fifth place. 

It would’ve been a different scenario if Denver didn’t get it together in the second half. They were down by as much as nine points in the first half and gave up 42 points in the paint. In the second half, the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 67-57 and in the fourth quarter they held Los Angeles to just 35% shooting. Denver shot 63% from the field and 50% from long range in the final quarter with Barton hitting two clutch 3-pointers to give Denver a 10-point lead with 3:42 to go. 

“I thought he was great especially late in the quarter,” Nikola Jokic said. “He hit two big corner threes and he made a really good pass to me on the roll so especially late he was really good for us.”

The Nuggets put together an 11-2 run midway through the fourth and it was just too much for Los Angeles to overcome. Jokic scored 10 points in the quarter while Barton and DeMarcus Cousins put up six. Cousins played a big role off the bench after Jokic picked up his third foul early in the second quarter. He finished the night with 14 points in 15 minutes of play. 

“When Nikola comes out sometimes you don’t know what to except and I thought we had good minutes when Nikola was on the bench and even in that fourth quarter,” Malone said.  “Nikola got back in the game with seven minutes left in the game and we closed it out from there.” 

Denver was already shorthanded without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. but also had to play without Jeff Green (personal reasons) and Zeke Nnaji (knee). Both Barton and Cousins had to pick up the slack and they delivered. 

Aaron Gordon also had a huge game. He scored 24 points including three 3-pointers. He also grabbed eight boards.

The Lakers were without LeBron James who has been dealing with ankle soreness. He had missed two games prior to playing on Friday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Los Angeles has now lost six games in a row. 

Anthony Davis finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while Russell Westbrook put up 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Carmelo Anthony scored 17 points off the bench but it wasn’t enough to get past Denver.

The Nuggets have three games left in the regular season and play all three at home. They host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.