DENVER | 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 coach Jim Boylen took a “charge” late in the first quarter, when Torrey Craig fell on top of him after tumbling out of bounds. The ball was awarded to Chicago.
Denver forward Paul Millsap said his fractured right big toe is “feeling good.” The proof may have been on his dunk in the first quarter. He finished with 14 points.
“Feeling pretty bouncy,” Millsap said. “It’s feeling refreshed. I may go get a pedicure.”
LOOK WHO’S BACK
Nuggets guard Gary Harris returned after missing five games with hamstring tightness and scored 14 points in nearly 19 minutes.
“He’s probably our most consistent players,” Malone said.
Boylen appreciated Kris Dunn taking accountability for his less-than-stellar play in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the week. Dunn had six points and five turnovers against the Lakers.
“He took it on the chest that he’s got to play better for us to be successful,” Boylen said of Dunn, who had six points against Denver. “What we’re striving for is to play better basketball and to own the ‘Bulls’ across our chest.”
Bulls: Host Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat on Saturday.
Nuggets: Finish a four-game homestand Saturday against Cleveland.