There’s a reason that Nikola Jokic is the favorite to win the MVP this season.
Jokic is just one reason that the Denver Nuggets are one of the favorites in the West, after getting to the conference finals last year.
Even with a good offensive performance, the Pistons had a tough time stopping Jokic and the Nuggets’ potent offense, and even a strong game by Jerami Grant in his return to Denver wasn’t enough.
The Nuggets got started early and didn’t let up, streaking to a 134-119 win over the Pistons on Tuesday night at Ball Arena. It’s the sixth straight win for the Nuggets (32-18), led by Jokic, who had 27 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in just 27 minutes.
Grant led the Pistons (15-36) with 29 points, five rebounds and four assists and Saddiq Bey added 25 points in 24 minutes, but they were the only Pistons who scored in double figures.
The issue wasn’t offense, as the Pistons shot 54% from the field and 43% on 3-pointers, which usually would be good enough to win games. The Nuggets were better, though, with 62 points in the paint and 60% from the field.
“We didn’t present any opposition on the defensive end,” coach Dwane Casey said. “This is one of the toughest teams to play on a back-to-back. The first three plays o the game were indicative of our lack of concentration and focus.”
The Pistons simply had no answer for Jokic, who went 13-of-16 from the field and picked apart the defense with a flurry of passes and easy baskets in the post. Michael Porter Jr. added 25 points and seven rebounds and Will Barton 24 points, each hitting three 3-pointers.
In the first quarter, the Pitons jumped to a lead, with Grant and Plumlee, who were both with the Nuggets last season, leading the way. Plumlee scored the first four points for the Pistons and Grant had 10 in the first six minutes.
For much of the game, Grant was almost the only offense that the Pistons had going, until Bey got hot in the middle quarters. Grant, who left Denver last offseason to join the Pistons, wanted to get a bigger role and with the Pistons, he’s found a new role.
“I know I have to be aggressive in order to give us a chance,” Grant said. “They were giving me some things that I usually don’t see, so I wanted to be aggressive at the beginning.”
Jokic scored on a lay-in at the 3:56 mark and Hamidou Diallo converted a 3-pointer and kept the Nuggets close. Denver scored the last nine points of the period and Paul Millsap (12 points) hit a lay-in and a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, boosting the lead to 44-32.
“He’s definitely one of the MVP candidates because he makes their team better,” Casey said. “Everybody moves off him and a lot of their points were off him. His size, physicality and intelligence for them, he makes everybody around him better, with his passing, 3-point shooting and versatility.
“He has to be in that (MVP) conversation.”
Bey, who had six 3-pointers, scored from beyond the arc and Sekou Doumbouya on a coast-to-coast drive, but the Pistons weren’t getting stops and Porter got hot, with a turnaround in the lane and a 3-pointer, keeping the lead at 12.
Bey also set the franchise record for 3-pointers for a rookie, passing Brandon Knight who had 105 in 2012.
“He solid; he’s a keeper,” Casey said. “He’s an NBA starter for us and one of our building blocks and a great kid. That’s something that I’m glad to see him achieve.”
The Nuggets had another big run, scoring the last 11 points of the half, for a 76-56 lead, after a highlight-reel 3-pointer by Jokic that beat the first-half buzzer. With a drive by Monte Morris (10 points) and a dunk by Porter, the lead got to 24 and the Pistons never regained the lead again.