The way the Nuggets are playing, sizzling might be an understatement.
And in the name of accuracy, streaking would be more appropriate.
The Nuggets ripped off their sixth consecutive win Tuesday night, pounding the visiting Pistons, 134-119, to improve to 32-18 on the season. Outside of the tribute video to both Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, there wasn’t anything pleasant about their homecoming.
Although pleased with the outcome, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t thrilled with the defensive effort, which conceded 15 3-pointers and allowed over 54% shooting from Detroit.
“Our offense played at a high level,” Malone said. “Our defense was poor. That was the approach. It was alright. Can be better. We’re gonna have to defend a hell of a lot better tomorrow night.”
Nikola Jokic dominated, again, with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. His ruthlessly efficient night — 13-of-16 from the field — came with only two free throws.
Despite their winning streak, Jokic echoed a similar tone as Malone.
“We are showing that we can be a really good team,” Jokic said. “And we are showing that we have a lot of empty minutes.”
It didn’t matter because of how efficient the offense was, but the Nuggets held the Pistons to under 30 for just one quarter.
Grant made the most noise for Detroit, finishing with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting. His night was a microcosm of the free agency decision he made before the season. Grant got his numbers, while the Nuggets got the win. The Nuggets, who played without Jamal Murray due right knee soreness, will risk their longest winning streak of the season Wednesday against San Antonio.
Michael Porter Jr. was almost as dangerous as Jokic, adding 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Both he and Will Barton (24 points on 10-for-16 shooting) saw an increase in offensive touches without Murray available.
The Nuggets dominated the glass (44-30) and paint points (62-48) in the rout.
Jokic continued his basketball clinic in the third quarter, dealing assists and dominating in the paint. The Pistons tried to slow him down with the rangier Grant, but eventually switched to bulkier rookie Isaiah Stewart. Neither proved effective.
Jokic finished the quarter with 11 points and three assists. One of his baskets came off a “hot potato” sequence where both he and Aaron Gordon wanted to prove how unselfish they both were.
The Nuggets were in such total command that a recurring “Bol Bol” chant broke out with 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Nuggets headed to the fourth quarter in complete control, up 109-86.
Before the game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone lauded Gordon’s seamless fit alongside the starters.
“I think it speaks to Aaron wanting to be a part of a high-level team, a team that has championship aspirations,” Malone said. “He did not come in here trying to stand out. He came in here trying to fit in.”
That stood in stark contrast to Grant, whose decision to leave Denver in free agency caught many by surprise.
“Jerami had the opportunity to come back, chose not to, and he’s had a phenomenal season,” Malone said. “… Both players (Grant and Mason Plumlee), wanted bigger roles, more minutes. Mason’s playing the way he’s always played. … Even though (Grant) played 32 minutes a game in the playoffs, he wanted a bigger role offensively that he wasn’t going to get here. For him, he’s had the ball in his hands, he’s their No. 1 option, No. 1 scorer, and he’s taken full advantage of that. You have to give Jerami a lot of credit.”
Jokic ended the first-half with a flurry of highlights that only he could make. Late in the second quarter he tipped in a ball that happened to bounce near the rim. A couple possessions later, he threw down his 29th dunk of the season. In between, he served up teammates for easy dimes as the Nuggets jumped out to a commanding 76-56 halftime lead.
Jokic finished the half with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, eight assists and five rebounds. He ended the first half with a Sombor Shuffle a shade inside the 3-point line.
Without a healthy Murray, Porter more than picked up the slack. He poured in 17 points on 7-for-9 first-half shooting, including three 3-pointers. His off-ball movement continues to be a devastating component of his game.
The Nuggets operated at ridiculous efficiency, shooting 67% from the field as a team and dishing a collective 21 assists over the first two quarters.