A successful weekend gave the Denver Nuggets plenty of reasons to feel good about things, while giving Nikola Jokic a chance for some late-game relaxation.
The successful weekend also gave the Nuggets a chance to go over .500 for the first time this season when they play on the road Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets.
Denver opened with four losses in five games but enters Tuesday the reverse of that with four wins in the last five games to get their record to the break-even point. The Nuggets rebounded nicely from a 124-117 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday by decisively winning on consecutive days at Philadelphia and New York.
The weekend marked Denver's top two defensive performances, following up a 115-103 win over Philadelphia with Sunday's 114-89 rout of New York where it led by 21 by halftime and occasionally used a zone defense.
On Sunday, the Nuggets shot 53.6 percent from the field while allowing 43.2 percent shooting, their second-lowest figure of the season and just ahead of the 41.7 percent they allowed Saturday.
"I think our defense in the last five has been a lot better than it was to begin the season in the first five games," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "A marked improvement."
The last two games also allowed Jokic to be productive in his two shortest stints on the floor. He totaled 15 points and 12 assists in 29 minutes Saturday and the finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes Sunday. Gary Harris added 14 points Sunday and is shooting 60.5 percent (23-of-38) in his last four games after going a combined 3-of-18 against Phoenix and Minnesota in the first two games of January.
"We are kind of flying around, we are making shots, we are playing for each other," Jokic said of the team's recent stretch. "Everything fits in the last two, three games."
Jokic's performance has fit well the entire season, averaging a triple-double with career highs of 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 10.4 assists to go along with 58.7 percent shooting.
Brooklyn cruised to decisive wins in its first two games but is 3-6 in the last nine games. The Nets were without Kevin Durant for three games due to COVID-19 safety protocols and have been without Kyrie Irving due to personal reasons for the last three games. He will miss Tuesday's game as well.
Irving last played in a 130-96 rout of Utah last Tuesday when he scored 29 points. He has averaged 27.1 points in seven games so far. On Sunday, head coach Steve Nash referred to his absence as a personal leave, which has Durant's support.
"Ky's still on personal leave and all the communication with Ky between the organization I'm going to keep private and I'm sure you'll hear from him at some point," Nash said.
"We support him 100 percent and pray for the best," Durant said.
Durant returned from his own absence and continued his spectacular start with 36 points Sunday. But the Nets faded down the stretch after scoring 41 points in the first quarter and absorbed a 129-116 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Brooklyn was outscored 100-75 in the final three quarters and allowed 54.4 percent shooting, a season high for an opponent. It marked the first time the Nets allowed any opponent to shoot at least 50 percent.
"We didn't guard tonight," Nash said after the Nets blew a 15-point lead in the second quarter. "I didn't sense the pride and competitive fire in the second half."
--Field Level Media