The pledge from Jamal Murray: More effort. The promise from Nikola Jokic: More aggressiveness.
It added up to just the sort of confidence-restoring, bounce-back performance the Denver Nuggets needed.
Murray scored 22 of his 25 points in the third quarter, Jokic finished two rebounds shy of another triple-double and the Nuggets cruised past Chicago 135-105 on Thursday night for their 12th straight home win over the Bulls.
“This was the response we were all hoping for,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
On Tuesday, the Nuggets were drubbed 142-111 by Golden State in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference. So before Thursday’s game, Malone challenged his team.
More specifically, Murray and Jokic.
“I asked Nikola, ‘What are you going to give us tonight?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be aggressive,'” Malone recounted. “I asked Jamal, ‘What are you going to give us tonight?’ He said, ‘I’m going to play with great effort.’ I thought those guys did that.”
The tandem had big nights and didn’t even see the floor in the fourth quarter. Murray was feeling it during his third-quarter spurt, hitting six shots from 3-point range.
“Everyone knows once I make one or two, that’s all I need,” Murray said. “After that, I’m locked in.”
Jokic did a little bit of everything, finishing with 18 points and 11 assists. He had a move where he went around the waist with the ball to avoid a defender and drew a foul while making the shot. That kicked up chants of “M-V-P!”
He helped the Nuggets overcome a sluggish start and actually lead by as many as 40 points.
“We needed to wake up to try to play like we were supposed to play, not just this game but every game,” Jokic said. “When we got to the other gear, we played the right way.”
Another rough night for the Bulls, who haven’t knocked off the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center since Feb. 8, 2006. The Bulls also remain winless in 2019, with their losing streak stretching to nine in a row.
“We’re just trying to keep our head up,” said Lauri Markkanen, who scored 27 as his team that finished up a fruitless five-game trip. “Obviously, it’s tough to keep losing. But no one is going to feel sorry for us, and like I’ve said before on this road trip, we’ve just got to work through it and that’s all we can do. But yes, it is frustrating.”
The Nuggets showed no residual effects from the lopsided loss to the Warriors, in which they allowed an NBA-record, 51-point first quarter. Denver picked up the defensive intensity from the start and limited the Bulls to 47 points at halftime. Just the sort of defensive effort Malone wanted to see.
“Everybody contributed,” Malone said. “A great response.”
Bulls: Rookie C Wendell Carter Jr. was ruled out with a sprained left thumb. He’s day to day. … G Zach LaVine was held to eight points, well below his average of 23.2.
Nuggets: G Will Barton missed the game for personal reasons. … Denver hit a season-high 20 3-pointers.
Bulls: Host Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat on Saturday.
Nuggets: Finish a four-game homestand Saturday against Cleveland.
AROUND THE LEAGUE THURSDAY
–The Philadelphia 76ers were easy winners in a clash between two of the top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid delivered 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the Sixers’ seventh victory in nine games, a 120-96 blowout over the Pacers at Indiana. Jimmy Butler added 27 points and eight assists for Philadelphia, which shot 53 percent and finished with 38 assists. J.J. Redick had a hand in the victory, hitting six of the 76ers’ 18 3-pointers and finishing with 20 points. Indiana’s starting backcourt of Darren Collison and All-Star Victor Oladipo was limited to 21 combined points on 9-of-30 shooting.
— Pascal Siakam scored the winning basket just before time expired to send the Raptors past the Suns, 111-109. Siakam had 10 points and 12 rebounds, Serge Ibaka scored 22 and Kyle Lowry had 16 with nine rebounds in Toronto’s eighth straight home win.
— Kyle Kuzma provided 32 points and the Lakers outscored the Thunder 16-6 in overtime to earn a 138-128 victory at Oklahoma City. Ivica Zubac scored a career-high 26 points and Lonzo Ball added 18 as Los Angeles improved to 5-7 since LeBron James strained his left groin.
— Kemba Walker went over the 11,000-point plateau while scoring 23 in the Hornets’ 114-95 blowout over the Kings. Miles Bridges and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each had 15 points for Charlotte, and Willy Hernangomez added 11 points and 16 rebounds off the bench to help the Hornets’ backups outscore the Sacramento bench, 60-44.
— The Wizards came away with a 101-100 win over the Knicks in London when Allonzo Trier was called for goaltending on a layup attempt by Thomas Bryant with 0.4 seconds remaining. The goaltending call completed a Wizards comeback in which they trailed by 12 entering the fourth quarter before limiting the Knicks to 11 points the rest of the way. Bradley Beal scored 26 points and had nine rebounds for the Wizards, while Otto Porter Jr. had 20 points and 11 boards in Washington’s third victory in four games.