DENVER | Paul Millsap scored a season-high 22 points on his 36th birthday, Michael Porter Jr. added 19 and the Denver Nuggets routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 133-95 on Wednesday night to snap a three-game skid.
The Nuggets opened a 23-point lead in the first half, saw it increase to 34 in the third — notoriously a problem quarter for them this season — and coasted from there as Nikola Jokic and his fellow starters got the fourth quarter off. Jokic finished with 12 points and 12 assists.
“When we play the right way, we’re a really good team,” Millsap said.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Cavaliers. It’s also tied for their most lopsided loss of the season. They were beaten 141-103 on Jan. 24 at Boston.
“To me, the Nuggets sent a clear message from the jump ball to the end of the game,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The message was, there was an intent to embarrass us, whether it was through physicality, whether it was showboating after plays, whether it was the shot at the end of the game. They sent a clear message. Their intent was to embarrass us and they did it.”
Bickerstaff later clarified he wasn’t calling out the Nuggets.
“I’m not saying by any means a disrespectful thing to the Nuggets at all,” Bickerstaff said. “It was an embarrassing loss.”
Because no disrespect meant, Millsap said.
“We have a goal we’re trying to reach,” Millsap said. “They just happened to be out there tonight. We weren’t trying to come out and embarrass them.”
Jarrett Allen had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who are 0-2 on their five-game trip out West. Cleveland swept the season series with Denver last season.
Denver’s season-high 133 points meant a lot of eating for injured Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr., who posted on social media a playful vow to consume as many McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets as the Nuggets scored points. Nance, sidelined with a broken left hand and not with the team, had 12 boxes of 10-piece McNuggets all lined up on the counter, complete with sides of BBQ sauce.
Nance later posted an image of waving a white flag in a sign of surrender.
The Nuggets turned up the defensive pressure, holding Cleveland to 37.9% shooting from the floor. The Cavs missed their opening 11 3-point attempts before finally connecting. They finished 8 of 38 from long range.
Before the game, the Nuggets had a heart-to-heart conversation in an effort to break out of their funk.
“You can talk about it and talk about it, but sometimes you need to be about it,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Cavaliers: The team was without G Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) and F Kevin Love (strained right calf). … The Cavs outrebounded Denver by a 50-39 margin.
Nuggets: Rookie Zeke Nnaji scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers and a dunk that drew a technical for his celebration. … G Facundo Campazzo had five points in his return. He missed two games due to right knee soreness.
Bickerstaff and his head coaching counterpart, Malone, followed a similar road. They’re both sons of NBA coaches and paid their dues by rising through the ranks.
“A lot of respect to him, his family, and just the path he’s taken,” Malone said. “He’s earned everything he’s got.”
The Cavaliers are a young but talented team trying to find their way. That’s just like the Nuggets a few seasons ago, when they went from a 33-win team in Malone’s first season to the Western Conference finals last season.
“They were patient,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s definitely a blueprint, because I think they did an unbelievable job as an organization.”
Malone said he was fortunate to get the time to build.
“There are steps you have to take,” Malone said. “As long as ownership, front office and the coach are all aligned in that, you can weather that storm, and be patient.”
Cavaliers: At Portland on Friday. Their last win in Portland was Jan. 16, 2013.
Nuggets: Host Oklahoma City on Friday.