Nuggets swarm Grizzlies in rout to claim sixth win in seven games

Nikola Jokic lowered his shoulder. Michael Porter Jr. dropped the hammer.

Porter’s late jam all-but sealed a rugged, hard-fought 120-96 win over the visiting Grizzlies, improving Denver’s record to 40-21 on the season. Now winners in six of their last seven, the Nuggets host the Pelicans on Wednesday in what will undoubtedly be another physical grind.

Rather than rely on a potent offense to carry them past Ja Morant’s Grizzlies, the Nuggets defended. They blew up passing lanes, swatted layup attempts and flew out on perimeter contests. Memphis finished the night just 4-of-32 on 3-point looks and turned it over 16 times.

“Second half was tremendous,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “I really thought the key stretch was end of the third quarter, start of the fourth quarter. We went on a 20-4 run with our whole bench in the game. … Our defense was on point.”

Jokic set the offensive tone, finishing with 24 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. His physical presence down low matched Memphis’ interior strength. And Porter added 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting. The blossoming star has 70 points over Denver’s last two games.

Aaron Gordon hung 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field, but his dogged defense helped limit Memphis to just 42% shooting on the night.

The Grizzlies brought their grit-and-grind style to Denver, and the third quarter turned into a battle of defensive wills. Up 64-63 with 7:47 left, the Nuggets reeled off a 6-0 run fueled by back-to-back steals. Though the Grizzlies kept clawing and attacking the paint, the Nuggets fought back and found pay-dirt on the offense glass. Gordon had two clutch offensive rebounds, a small but significant separator against a feisty Memphis squad. The Nuggets stretched the lead to 85-75 on the heels of five forced turnovers in the quarter alone.

After a promising performance from JaVale McGee in Saturday’s win over Houston, Malone opted for Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green as the first two big men off the bench.

“I’m not sitting here expecting JaVale McGee or Paul Millsap or JaMychal Green to be happy if they’re not playing on a given night, but they do have an obligation and responsibility to their team and their teammates, and JaVale’s been phenomenal,” Malone said.

“His energy, his positivity, supporting guys whether he’s playing or not, his voice in the locker room, it’s just been really fun to watch,” he said. “And I appreciate it so much, and I told him that.”

Down Jamal Murray, Monte Morris and Will Barton, the Nuggets had to contend with Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks, who were all out when the teams met last Monday night.

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