DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 19 rebounds, and nine assists, and the Denver Nuggets built a huge lead before holding off the Washington Wizards 113-107 on Monday night in coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s return to the Mile High City.
Jokic tied his season-high for rebounds but missed out on his sixth triple-double when he was ejected midway through the fourth quarter. Monte Morris added 22 points for Denver.
“To be honest, I think I didn’t deserve it,” Jokic said of the ejection. “I just said, ‘Call a foul’ because I thought it was a foul.”
Bradley Beal had 19 points and 10 assists, and Davis Bertans scored 21 off the bench for the Wizards.
Unseld was an assistant on Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s staff from 2015-21 and was making his first trip back to Denver since taking the job in Washington last summer. His team fell behind by 33 in the third quarter but rallied in the fourth.
“We were generating open shots and we start the game 3 for 15 from 3. That’s demoralizing,” Unseld said. “You create the offense you’re looking for and you don’t get the payoff. There was a lot of frustration with that and it affected our energy and focus at the other end.
”(Then) shots went in. We had a string of possessions we started to make shots.”
The comeback brought Jokic and the Denver starters back into the game, but the reigning MVP didn’t stick around long after a couple of physical possessions on both ends. He was ejected for arguing with the officials with 6:09 left, and the Wizards made it a 10-point game with 3:25 to go.
“You give up 37 points in the fourth quarter, you stop defending, you turn the ball over. You’re giving your opponent extra points and extra possessions,” Malone said. “On top of that, Nikola’s our best player, the best player in the league. We’re a much better team when he’s on the floor and available, not in the locker room.”
The Wizards cut it to seven on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining but couldn’t complete the comeback.
“We played the way we should have played at the end of the game the whole game,” Beal said.
Wizards: F Kyle Kuzma was out again but is feeling fine, Unseld said, and he hopes Kuzma can join the team on the road trip. … A Washington staffer tested positive for COVID-19 and is not with the team. … F Rui Hachimura, who has yet to play this season, stayed back in Washington because there will be no chance for a practice during the road trip.
Nuggets: Malone coached his 500th game with Denver. … F JaMychal Green was out with an ankle injury sustained Saturday at San Antonio. … G Will Barton missed his second straight game with a non-COVID-19 illness.
Unseld spent a lot of time watching Barton play when he was a Nuggets assistant and has a lot of respect for the guard. In fact, he thinks Barton will be playing basketball long after he retires from the NBA.
“Will probably doesn’t get a lot of credit but his work ethic is unparalleled,” Unseld said. “He wants to be in the gym. He’s one of those guys that even when he’s retired and 40 he’ll be playing in a men’s league somewhere in Baltimore. He loves to hoop.”
The Nuggets held a moment of silence before the game for Demaryius Thomas, the former Denver Broncos wide receiver who died unexpectedly on Thursday.
Monday marked the 38th anniversary of the Detroit Pistons beating Denver 186-184 in three overtimes, the highest-scoring game in NBA history. Detroit’s total was the most points scored by one team in a game, a record that still stands.
Four players had 40 or more points, led by Denver’s Kiki VanDeWeghe with 51. Isiah Thomas led the Pistons with 47.
Wizards: At the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
Nuggets: Host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.