“He came back and did what we expect him to do,” coach Michael Malone said after Jokic’s seventh triple-double of the season led the Denver Nuggets past the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers 126-100 Saturday night.
“He was a huge part of our attack and made the right play time and time again,” Malone said after watching Jokic score 32 points, pull down 18 rebounds and dish out 10 assists. “He’s proven why he’s an All-NBA type player. Thank goodness he’s in a Nuggets uniform.”
The 76ers gave leading scorer Joel Embiid the night off, robbing fans of a Jokic-Embiid showdown but allowing their star to get a six-day midseason break before their next game Tuesday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Jokic, the Nuggets’ leader in points, rebounds and assists, missed Denver’s rout of the Phoenix Suns on Friday night when he was handed a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in Utah earlier in the week.
Malone said he didn’t think Jokic would be any more fired up than usual for his return and instead would focus on helping “his team win another game at home against a quality team from the Eastern Conference.”
Jokic did just that, scoring 17 first-quarter points on his way to a 20-point, 12-rebound first-half as the Nuggets, who led wire to wire for the second straight night, took a 77-68 lead into the locker room.
“That’s the Joker we like to see, coming out physical and aggressive early,” Torrey Craig said. “When he’s aggressive like that, we’re a great team.”
Through three quarters, Jokic had 28 points, 17 boards and nine assists, and he got the triple-double shortly after re-entering the game midway through the fourth quarter with a half-court pass to Malik Beasley, whose dunk put Denver ahead 118-104.
“He did what he does all the time,” Gary Harris said. “He came out and was aggressive. We asserted ourselves early and got the job done.”
Jokic sat out the final few minutes, leaving him two boards shy of the rare 30-20-10 triple-double.
While his teammates are starting to expect triple-doubles out of him on a regular basis, Jokic isn’t focusing on them.
“I don’t think going into the game I need these points, rebounds. I just play hard and try to win,” Jokic said. “If it happens, I like it, and it’s cool.”
Jimmy Butler (sprained right wrist) and Wilson Chandler (left hamstring tightness) also sat out for the 76ers, who got 22 points from JJ Redick and 20 from Corey Brewer but never led.
“We weren’t 100 percent,” said Ben Simmons, who scored 14. “We were missing Jimmy and Joel and Chandler. Pretty big puzzles on this team.”
This isn’t a game the 76ers will dwell on, though.
“We did all right considering what we had to play with tonight,” Redick said. “Overall, we competed. We made mistakes. Young guys made mistakes. You move on.”
The Nuggets were hoping to have their opening night lineup back for the first time since the second game of their season, but guard Jamal Murray was scratched after rolling his left ankle Friday night.
This was only the second time he’d missed a game in his three-year career. Murray played all 82 games his rookie season and missed a game last year because of a concussion.
Over his last 10 games, Murray has averaged 17.9 points and 4.4 assists.
“I’m worried about it,” Malone said. “He’s been battling the ankle for a little while now and just when it was starting to feel really good he rolls it once again. I saw it this afternoon. It was really, really swollen. So, he’ll continue to get treatment round-the-clock, and we’ll see about his availability in Memphis.”
76ers: With just three offensive rebounds in the first half, the 76ers managed a single second-chance point, three fewer than the Nuggets, who had just five offensive boards, three from Jokic. … Mike Muscala hit at trio of 3-pointers early in the first half.
Nuggets: Denver’s 77-point first half was a season high, besting the 74 the Nuggets scored against Dallas on Dec. 18. … Colorado Rockies SS Trevor Story missed the pregame free throw, failing to match ace Kyle Freeland, who swished his shot on opening night. … New Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio got a standing ovation when he was shown on the big screen.
76ers: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.
Nuggets: Visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.