SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Denver Nuggets responded to their worst loss of the season just as coach Michael Malone had hoped.

Nikola Jokic had 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists and the Nuggets avenged an earlier loss to San Antonio, beating the Spurs 127-112 on Saturday night.

“Like (San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich) said to me after the game, ‘Hey, that’s the way to respond,’” Malone said. “You got your group to respond from a tough loss and the guys deserve credit for doing so.”

The Nuggets had a balanced effort on both ends two nights after their most lethargic performance of the season. Denver never led and was dominated in the paint and on 3-pointers in falling 123-111 to San Antonio on Thursday.

The Nuggets were 20 for 43 on 3-pointers Saturday and matched their season-high for made 3s.

“Denver set a good example of how you react after a loss,” Popovich said. “And we did the opposite. We showed how you do not want to react after a win. ”

Denver’s Markus Howard had a season-best 21 points, Monte Morris added 19 points and Bones Hyland and Aaron Gordon had 16 each.

Lonnie Walker IV scored 16 points to lead San Antonio, which had won five of seven. Devin Vassell added 15 points and Bryn Forbes and Keldon Johson each scored 14.

One night after the 25th anniversary of his coaching debut, Popovich opted to sit his starters for much of the final quarter as Denver built a 32-point lead.

“Tonight, we were just sloppy for the majority of the game and we didn’t want to continue that knowing that we have a game here in less than 24 hours,” Spurs guard Tre Jones said.

San Antonio hosts New Orleans on Sunday night.

The Nuggets got a needed boost from their bench on the final night of a seven-game, 13-day trip.

Reserve guards Howard and Hyland were a combined 8 for 12 on 3-pointers in the first half.

Howard finished 6 for 12 on 3-pointers after only playing the final 42 seconds of Thursday’s loss.

“I think we played how we were supposed to play,” Jokic said. “We were not over aggressive, we were just how we are supposed to be. We need to play like that because we are not really talented, but we need to provide some trade-off, we need to be aggressive and run off their mistakes.”

Jokic received two technical fouls but escaped ejection because officials ruled the second was a non-unsportsmanlike technical for hanging on the rim. Jokic hung on the rim and thrusted after a dunk that put Denver up 83-56 with 9:25 remaining in the third.

“I over-exaggerated (on the dunk),” Jokic said he was told.

The excitement and confusion of the dunk was a fitting punctuation to a frustrating two-game stop in San Antonio for Denver.

NOT OFFICIAL

Golden State coach Steve Kerr is reportedly set to replace Popovich as head coach of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. USA Basketball has not confirmed that report and neither would Popovich.

“USA Basketball hasn’t made any kind of announcement yet, so I am not going to get ahead of the game,” Popovich said, “and just see what they come up with.”

Popovich led the U.S. to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics despite the team having a late start due to the NBA season ending later than normal.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver went 4-3 on their longest road trip of the season. … Will Barton was ruled out an hour before the game due to a non-COVID illness. Will Barton averages 2.6 made 3-pointers per game for the Nuggets, scoring 16.3 points while shooting 39.2% from beyond the arc. … G Austin Rivers missed his sixth straight game while in the league’s health and safety protocols. … F JaMychal Green received a technical foul with 8:13 remaining in the first half after continuously griping at official Jenna Schroeder.

Spurs: Johnson returned after missing Thursday’s game due to a sprained right ankle he suffered in the first half Tuesday against New York. Johnson has made at least three 3-pointers in three games this season after doing so just twice last season and once in 2020. … Ten Spurs players have scored at least 125 points this season through 25 games, the first time that has happened since 2010. … The Spurs are 4-12 against the West.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Host Washington on Monday.