MINNEAPOLIS | Nikola Jokic scored 16 of his 31 points in the first quarter as the Denver Nuggets took control and the playoff-bound Nuggets held off a second-half rally in a 114-103 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
JaVale McGee had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Vlatko Cancar scored a career-high 14 points off the bench for Denver. The Nuggets rested Michael Porter Jr. after clinching home-court advantage in the first round with their 117-112 victory at Charlotte in their previous game.
Denver sits No. 4 in the Western Conference, a game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for third.
“I think we can go with a lot of different options,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said of Jokic and McGee starting together for the first time. “As we approach the playoffs with now two games to go, we can try some more different things.”
Anthony Edwards scored 18 of his 29 points in the third as Minnesota made its run. Karl-Anthony Towns added 20 points and 11 rebounds, and D’Angelo Russell had 17 points.
“I think they just went big and put pressure on us,” Towns said. “They had the size advantage and it hurt us.”
Denver used its size with Jokic and McGee to assume a 13-point lead in the first half. The Nuggets scored their first 20 points in the paint, a streak snapped by an Aaron Gordon 3-pointer. They finished with 60 points inside the paint for the game.
Jokic was doing much of the offensive work. He had 12 of Denver’s first 14 points.
Together, Jokic and McGee combined for 27 rebounds and the Nuggets held a 53-43 rebounding advantage.
“I definitely think this could be a lineup in the future, especially with teams that play two bigs,” McGee said. “I definitely feel like it gives Joke definitely some time off his legs on the defensive end. … He doesn’t have to worry about it. He can just do what he does on offense.”
Nuggets: Monte Morris was held out for injury management. He made his return on Tuesday after missing 12 games with a right hamstring strain. … Malone said he doesn’t expect Will Barton (right hamstring strain) or PJ Dozier (right adductor strain) to return before the end of the season. Malone said Barton, who missed his 11th straight game, is closer to a return than Dozier. Dozier has missed the past five games. … Denver has beaten Minnesota in 11 straight matchups.
Timberwolves: Edwards passed Christian Laettner for the most games of 20-plus points in a rookie season in franchise history. Edwards has 34 such games this season. … Edwards’ 18 points in the third tied his season-high for a quarter. … Towns had his 32nd double-double of the season and extended his club record for consecutive games with a 3 to 83 straight games.
Prior to the game, Malone said Porter Jr. should be in the conversation for the league’s comeback player of the year award. Malone also withheld any self-promotion for coach of the year honors but noted that the Nuggets get overlooked for the league’s awards.
“Listen, Nikola doesn’t get respect,” Malone said. “The Nuggets don’t get respect. I don’t get respect. Who cares? All I care about is us staying together, us finding ways to win, and continuing to prove people wrong, which I think we’ve done a great job of. I don’t know if there’s been a more resilient team in the last few years.”
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has reached agreement on his $1.5 billion sale of the club to e-commerce mogul Marc Lore and former baseball star Alex Rodriguez, a person with knowledge of the negotiation told The Associated Press on Thursday.
“Those guys have been around,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said before the game. “We saw Marc in Sacramento. We saw Alex in Miami. It’s been great to see them around. It’s been great to begin to incorporate them into what we’re doing. I know that they’re pretty excited about what they’ve seen so far. But, again, the work is the work and we have to all do it.”
Nuggets: Finish a back-to-back on Friday in Detroit before ending the season at Portland.
Timberwolves: Host Boston on Saturday and Dallas on Sunday to end their season.