10/21 00:47 CDT Jokic scores 27 points, Nuggets beat Suns 110-98
Jokic scores 27 points, Nuggets beat Suns 110-98
By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) --- Nikola Jokic was up to his old tricks Wednesday night, scoring
on a crafty array of hook shots, 3-pointers and flat-footed jumpers.
In short, the reigning MVP still looks a lot like an MVP.
The 6-foot-11 Serbian poured in 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, leading the
Denver Nuggets past the Phoenix Suns 110-98 in the opener for both teams. The
Nuggets recovered from a 16-point deficit late in the second quarter and held
the Suns to just 40 points in the second half.
"It's a hell of a way to start the season," Denver coach Michael Malone said.
"But it's one game, 81 left."
The 26-year-old Jokic earned his first NBA MVP award last season after
averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. He was 13 of 22
from the field on Wednesday, providing a few crucial buckets in the fourth
quarter to turn back a Suns rally.
Malone said it's obvious that Jokic continues to be an elite player. Now the
coach is pushing Jokic to become a leader and wants his star's voice heard in
the huddle during every timeout.
"Early in his career, he was growing up, maturing, handling adversity and
handling the refs," Malone said. "He's done that. He's really improved."
The Suns were playing three months after losing Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the
Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix has returned much of the same roster, including the
All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, to make another run at the
The teams were playing for the first time since the Suns swept the Nuggets in
four games in the second round of last season's Western Conference playoffs.
This time, it was Denver with the upper hand. Will Barton scored 20 points and
Michael Porter Jr. added 15.
Mikal Bridges led Phoenix with 16 points. Paul had 15 points and 10 assists.
The Suns struggled with their shooting in the fourth quarter, going nearly five
minutes without scoring as the Nuggets took control. Denver's Aaron Gordon had
a huge chase-down block during that drought, swatting Booker's layup into the
stands behind the Nuggets' bench.
"It's definitely one we wanted to get," Gordon said. "Start off on the right
foot and you know, a little payback. We'll see them again. It's just one game."
Phoenix led 58-51 at halftime following a seesaw first half that saw the
Nuggets take an early 25-16 advantage before the Suns rallied for a 57-41 lead
late in the second. Denver had a late flurry --- capped by Jokic's 3-pointer at
the buzzer --- to cut the margin to seven points.
"We missed a ton of shots, put them in transition and our transition defense
was below our standard," Suns coach Monty Williams said.
It was DeAndre Ayton's first game since the Suns opted not to extend the former
No. 1 overall draft pick's rookie contract by Monday's deadline.
Ayton reportedly wanted a maximum deal, which would have been five years and
worth $172 million. The Suns weren't willing to do that deal --- at least not
before the season --- and the two sides ended negotiations without an agreement.
The 23-year-old Ayton changed the trajectory of his career during last year's
playoffs, helping push the Suns to the NBA Finals. He contributed 15.8 points
and 11.8 rebounds per game while shooting 66% and providing stellar defense.
Ayton started with a flourish on Wednesday, leading the Suns with 13 points in
the first half. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
The Suns changed their arena name from Phoenix Suns Arena to the Footprint
Center --- which is a sustainable technology firm that took over as title
sponsor --- midway through last year's NBA Finals.
The new name is not off to a good start. They're now 0-2 with the name, losing
Game 5 of the Finals and Wednesday's opener.
Nuggets: G Jamal Murray was working out before the game, putting up shots. He's
rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee sustained last season. ... Six Nuggets
scored in double figures.
Suns: Though most of the roster is the same, G Landry Shamet and C JaVale McGee
both made their Suns debuts. Shamet finished with 11 points and McGee added six
points and eight rebounds.
Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.
Suns: At the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.
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