When Jamal Murray insisted he wasn’t worried following Wednesday’s dispiriting loss at Washington, maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t.
Two nights later, Murray erupted for a career-high 50 points against the Cavaliers, carrying the Nuggets to a resounding 120-103 win Friday night and handing Cleveland its ninth consecutive loss. Murray exploded for 30 points in the second half, capping off his career night with an emphatic jackhammer dunk to reach 50.
The scorching night – Murray was 21-of-25 from the field, including 8-of-10 from 3-point range – snapped Denver’s two-game losing streak and improved their record to 16-13 on the season. They’ll try to end their four-game road trip with a win Sunday in Atlanta.
Murray’s explosion overshadowed Nikola Jokic’s birthday triple-double. Denver’s All-Star center finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. His seventh triple-double of the year tied him with Luka Doncic and Russell Westbrook for the NBA lead.
Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. added 22 points and seven rebounds for his most complete game in weeks.
For the fourth consecutive game, Facundo Campazzo made a positive impact. As Cleveland got to within nine points, Campazzo injected energy into yet another lifeless third quarter. Aside from his shrewd playmaking, Campazzo likely left a dent on the Cavs’ hardwood after diving, and saving a defensive rebound. It was hustle plays like that that helped the Nuggets withstand the Cavs’ run.
Soon after Campazzo’s dive, Murray buried back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Nuggets carried a 95-80 lead into the fourth.
Though his impact was marginal, the Nuggets did get veteran Will Barton back after he’d missed three games due to personal reasons. With so many injuries, including Gary Harris (adductor), Paul Millsap (knee) and PJ Dozier (hamstring), the Nuggets needed every healthy body they could get after JaMychal Green left the game with a shoulder contusion in the first quarter.
As the Nuggets awaited their third game of the ongoing road trip, they held an optional team dinner Thursday night at the team hotel.
“Almost everybody showed up,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “As we were eating, it came across that (Jokic) was announced a starter for the All-Star Game. … Even before I had to announce anything formally, just to see his excitement, but how excited everybody was for him.”
Jokic’s accomplishment, becoming the first Nugget since Carmelo Anthony in 2011 to be named an All-Star starter, prompted Malone to reflect on the former second-round pick’s journey. Even Malone would admit that from his first Summer League in 2015, no one in the organization envisioned what Jokic would become.
“I couldn’t be happier for Nikola because he’s done everything I’ve ever asked of him,” Malone said. “After every season, it’s never been, ‘Go work on your jump shot, your 3-point shot, your left hook, your right hook.’ It’s always been, ‘Nikola, you have to mature, you have to grow up, you have to handle adversity, you have to be a leader, you have to be more vocal, you have to be in great shape.’ And he’s done all that. I’m so happy for the success he’s having.”
On Friday, his teammates even shouldered some of the load.
For a few unsettling moments, Friday’s first half looked a lot like the one the Nuggets authored against the Wizards on Wednesday night. After jumping out to a big lead, Denver’s turnovers started adding up, which gave the Cavs an opening.
But up 40-33 minutes into the second quarter, Cleveland center JaVale McGee wrapped his arm around Porter, committing a flagrant foul and forcing Porter awkwardly to the ground. Nuggets reserve Isaiah Hartenstein stepped to McGee, drawing a technical, in the wake of the foul.
Over the ensuing 7:55 of the first half, the Nuggets outscored Cleveland 29-17 to take a 69-50 lead into halftime. Porter and Murray were the two offensive hubs, combining for a combined 41 points, while Jokic ended the half with seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
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