By GREG BEACHAM – AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 38 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, and the Denver Nuggets moved into fifth place in the Western Conference with a 129-118 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Will Barton scored 25 points and Aaron Gordon added 24 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who capitalized on LeBron James’ absence with a fourth-quarter push to claim their fourth win in five games. Denver edged Utah half a game for fifth in the playoffs, gaining extra insurance against being forced into the play-in tournament.
Anthony Davis had 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the 11th-placed Lakers, whose game hopes dwindled further with their sixth straight loss. Los Angeles has lost 28 of 38 since Jan. 7. Russell Westbrook added 27 points and Carmelo Anthony had 17.
The Lakers were competitive against a superior opponent but couldn’t overcome the absence of the NBA‘s leading scorer, who sat out for the fourth time in six games to rest his sprained left ankle. James dropped 38 points in the Lakers’ loss to New Orleans on Friday night, but determined he couldn’t recover from that effort quickly enough to face the Nuggets early in the game. J
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James, 37, needs to play at least two of the Lakers’ last four games to qualify for the goalscoring title, which would only be the second of his career and the first since 2008. He started on Sunday ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid by a fraction of a point.
Jokic had turnovers on the Nuggets’ first two possessions in their first game since they made 18 turnovers in an ugly home loss to Minnesota – after which the MVP quipped: “How far are we- are we good at returning the ball? We’re so good it’s crazy.
Jokic scored 24 points in the second half, including 14 points in the third quarter, as the Nuggets took a small lead.
Nuggets: Coach Michael Malone reiterated his aversion to the play-in tournament before the game and believes it should only be used when the ninth and tenth place teams are extremely close to the teams above them . … DeMarcus Cousins had 14 points against his former team.
Lakers: The Lakers started a game Sunday behind San Antonio for 10th in the West and the last play-in tournament spot. The Spurs also hold the tiebreaker over LA, which means the Lakers face long odds. … Anthony has returned from a non-COVID illness. … Davis had his first consecutive 20-point games since Feb. 8.
At two pre-game ceremonies, the NBA unveiled the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Trophy, which will be awarded annually to the league’s “social justice champion”.
Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s leading career scorer and a longtime advocate for social justice and equality, was on hand for the first public presentation of the trophy. Anthony won the award last year and appeared on the pitch with Abdul-Jabbar before the whistleblower.
Nuggets: Host Spurs on Tuesday.
Lakers: At the Suns on Tuesday.
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