NEW YORK — Earlier this season, the Brooklyn Nets handed the Denver Nuggets one of their most frustrating losses of the year.
Playing their third game of a four-game road trip Wednesday night, the Nuggets didn't come close to returning the favor.
Brooklyn stormed out to a double-digit lead in the first half and rarely relented, hanging on for a 135-130 victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Nuggets, helpless on the perimeter, gave up 19-of-34 3-pointers and dropped to 37-17.
Nikola Jokic logged his 10th triple-double of the season, finishing with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Mason Plumlee added a season-high 24 as the Nuggets pounded the Nets inside with a 66-50 advantage. The two paced a furious fourth-quarter rally, trimming the margin to just four points before the Nets iced the game from the free-throw line.
Nets all-star D'Angelo Russell led the 3-point shootout with a team-high six 3-pointers, many of which came off poor perimeter closeouts. Brooklyn's 56 percent 3-point shooting was the most accurate the Nuggets have allowed all season.
What made Wednesday's result even worse was the fact it came on the heels of Monday's loss at Detroit, a game where the Nuggets lacked much fight at all.
"I've heard some guys say that we weren't ready to play, which is a shame," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "If you're not ready to play after missing the playoffs two years in a row, shame on you."
One third-quarter sequence epitomized the Nuggets' struggles. Malik Beasley turned it over off a 2-on-1, and Russell immediately capitalized with another 3-pointer to extend the lead to 81-64. Malone eventually countered with a rare five-man substitution, which immediately saw the Nuggets reel off a 9-0 run spurred by Monte Morris and rookie Jarred Vanderbilt. Denver got it as close as 11 points on two occasions yet finished the quarter down 108-87.
The Nuggets finally got positive injury news as Jamal Murray returned Wednesday after missing the previous six games with a left ankle sprain. They were, however, still missing starters Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.
Murray had 19 points and 11 assists in the return.
"I think it's been bothering (Murray having to sit out)," Malone said. "He's a competitor. He wants to play. But I think he's been really supportive in knowing that other guys have played well, and so he's happy for Monte, and we've been winning games without him and Gary in the lineup, which is incredible."
In the six games since Murray had been out, Beasley soared as the team's second-leading scorer at 21.2 points per game.
"I'm Malik's biggest fan," Murray said. "I know when he's going to dunk. I know when he's going to shoot. I'm just happy for him."
The rise of Beasley and Morris (third leading scorer in the last six games) has given Malone immense confidence in his team's depth.