The top scorers of the Denver Nuggets are likely excited to see the Houston Rockets on the schedule.
Not only will Denver be looking to defeat host Houston for the 10th consecutive time on Tuesday, but the Rockets’ defense sprung major leaks in the first two games following the All-Star break.
Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors made 12 3-pointers while scoring 42 points in his squad’s 116-101 win over the Rockets on Friday. Two nights later, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers established career highs of 71 points and 13 3-pointers in a 131-114 win over Houston.
Lillard’s point total ties for eighth most in NBA history. Rockets coach Stephen Silas was disappointed in the result while also tipping his hat to Lillard.
“I wouldn’t say it was execution, that it was poor execution because he got 71,” Silas said afterward. “I mean, obviously, there were some mistakes made, but he was hot. He was attacking the double teams, and you know, yeah, he had a great game.”
Houston rookie Tari Eason wasn’t thrilled to be part of a defense that allowed 71 points to a single player.
“Hats off to Dame — he’s a great player — for a historical night, but I mean, none of us are happy,” Eason said. “We lost, and we gave up a franchise record. So you know, we’ve got to be better for sure.”
The Rockets have dropped nine straight games and 29 of their past 33 while possessing the worst record in the NBA.
Denver owns the top mark in the Western Conference and holds a 5 1/2-game lead over the second-place Memphis Grizzlies.
The Nuggets have won five of their past six games and nine of 12, including Sunday’s 134-124 overtime win over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded 40 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists for his 23rd triple-double of the season and 99th of his career. Jokic has 14 triple-doubles in his past 19 games as he makes a bid to join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only players to win three consecutive MVP awards.
“If you’re looking for a super athlete to win MVP, he’s not your candidate,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after Sunday’s game. “If you’re looking for a great player that impacts winning in every possible way, whose team is first place in the Western Conference, then he’s your man.
“Frankly, I don’t give a damn what people think. I know he’s the MVP and his teammates know that and all the fans here in Denver and back home in Serbia know that.”
Jokic is averaging 24.8 points, 11.7 rebounds and 10.0 assists in 54 games.
Michael Porter Jr. added 29 points and 11 rebounds and Jamal Murray had 21 points and 12 assists against the Clippers.
The high-octane showing against Los Angeles came one game after Denver had a season-low output in a 112-94 road loss against the Grizzlies.
“When we get embarrassed, I think we do a really good job of showing up the next game,” Malone said. “One thing we’re always talking about is good teams don’t lose two games in a row. That’s something you strive.”
Murray averaged 28.5 points in back-to-back home wins over Houston in late November. However, he is listed as questionable for Tuesday due to low back pain.
Houston big man Alperen Sengun had 17 points and 10 rebounds against Portland for his first double-double since Feb. 8. Sengun didn’t play in the fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers due to defensive issues.
Rockets leading scorer Jalen Green (21.8 points per game) has missed the past two games with a groin injury.
Houston is expected to sign veteran center Willie Cauley-Stein to a 10-day contract.
–Field Level Media