Howard and Jokic lead the Nuggets ahead of the Pistons 104-91 | NBA

DETROIT (AP) – Markus Howard scored 20 points, a career-high, Nikola Jokic had a triple-double and the Denver Nuggets moved closer to a higher seed in the playoffs with a 104-91 victory on the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Jokic had 20 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists for Denver (47-24). The Nuggets improved to 3-0 on a four-game road trip that ends the regular season.

“We were going to control Nikola’s minutes – we wanted to get quality minutes, but not push him into the 1930s – and he ended up with a triple-double,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We will talk tomorrow about what he will do on Sunday in Portland.”

Howard was making his first career start and set a record for the third time in four games. He had 13 points against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday and 15 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.

“It was great to have this chance to play and to be able to help the team win games,” he said. “It means even more to do it at this point in the season.”

The Pistons (20-51) lost for the 11th time in 13 games. Hamadou Diallo led the Pistons with 18 points, Tyler Cook scored 17 and Deividas Sirvydis added a career-high 16. The Pistons have only dressed eight players, the oldest being Jahlil Okafor, 25, and shooting 16.2% (6-37) on 3 points.

“We looked great, and there have been a lot of nights this season where we have reversed those shots,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. “I think a lot of our guys are dealing with fatigue – we ask them to play a lot of minutes – but you can’t win like that.

The first half turned into an unexpected duel between Sirvydis and Howard. The rookies each had a career-high 16 points in the half, with Jokic adding 13 points, nine rebounds and nine assists as Denver took a 57-53 lead.

Jokic finished the triple-double early in the third quarter, and he and Howard both ended the period with 20 points as the Nuggets took an 87-74 lead.

“I thought we were unruly in the first half and weren’t playing with a lot of goal,” said Malone. “It improved in the second half, especially in defense.”

With Sirvydis sidelined with a bruised calf, Denver’s reserves had no trouble finishing the game, leading by no less than 19.

“(Sirvydis) really got us going in the first half, and our goal was to keep giving him the ball in the second half,” said Cook. “Losing him put a wrench in our plans.”

Nuggets: Vlatko Cancar also made his first NBA start, finishing with 11 points in 32 minutes. He and Howard (34) were the only Nuggets to play for more than 26 minutes.

Pistons: Sirvydis didn’t score in the second half and his injury left the Pistons with seven healthy players for the fourth quarter. Sirvydis went 4 of 7 on 3 points, while the rest of the squad went 2-30.

Until last week, Howard hadn’t scored more than six points in a game.

“I’m honestly surprised he didn’t have a game like this when he got to play with us until the 20 or 20,” said Malone. “We know he’s capable of taking shots. This is how he led the nation by scoring last year at Marquette.

Nuggets: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday to end the regular season.

Pistons: Host the Miami Heat on Sunday to end the season.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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