DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had a season-high 43 points to go with 14 rebounds and eight assists, and the Denver Nuggets overcame strong games from former teammates Will Barton and Monte Morris to beat the undermanned Washington Wizards 141-128 on Wednesday night.
Jokic shot 17 of 20 from the field, missing just one attempt from inside the 3-point line in a fast-paced game devoid of much defense.
“I was rolling,” Jokic said. “Guys were finding me.”
Bones Hyland scored 23 points and Aaron Gordon added 22. Denver shot 65% from the field and had a whopping 98 points in the paint in its third straight win.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was “shocked” at all the points inside. Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. was disgusted.
“They were just playing with a level of ease,” he said.
Barton matched a season best with 22 points and Morris added a season-high 20 in Washington’s eighth straight loss. Kyle Kuzma scored 24.
The Wizards were without their top two scorers in the opener of a six-game trip. Bradley Beal (hamstring) missed his fifth straight game and Kristaps Porzingas (back) was out after exiting early Monday against Brooklyn. Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring) also remained sidelined.
Barton and Morris stepped up in the first matchup since the offseason trade that sent the pair to Washington for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith.
Barton spent eight seasons in Denver and is the franchise leader in 3-pointers. Morris started 74 games last season while filling in for injured point guard Jamal Murray.
They combined for seven 3s in a first half that left Washington trailing 72-67. But without Porzingis, the Wizards had nobody to contain Jokic.
Taj Gibson started on him and got into foul trouble. Daniel Gafford then took a shot and provided little resistance. A small lineup didn’t work, either.
The two-time reigning MVP scored on a post move, went coast-to-coast for a layup, then grabbed a rebound and threaded a long bounce pass to Caldwell-Pope for a bucket during a 6-0 run early in the third quarter.
Jokic later scored with his left hand in the lane, had a three-point play and converted in the post. He ended up with 15 points in the third as Denver took the lead for good.
After Washington got within five early in the fourth, Jokic returned and hit two free throws before feeding Jeff Green for a dunk as the Nuggets pulled away.
“We were hitting him, meeting him early. He just found his spots,” Gibson said. “He’s 7-foot. He’s talented.”
MILE HIGH RETURN
The crowd roared after the Nuggets played video tributes for Barton and Morris during the first two timeouts.
Barton said he’s proud of ”laying the bricks” for a franchise that moved from the draft lottery to Western Conference contender.
“It was a blessing to come here, making a name for myself and making a career out of this,” Barton said. “To show what I can do and get respect around the league, I’ll never take that for granted. I cherish all the moments I had.”
Wizards: Beal worked out Tuesday but is “still not where he needs to be,” according to Unseld. … There’s no structural damage for Porzingis, but Unseld was unsure when he’ll return. … Unseld said “it’s trending in the right direction” that Wright will play on the trip.
Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr. (heel) participated in shootaround drills but hasn’t been cleared for contact. He missed his 10th straight game. … Malone decided no one deserved the defensive player of the game chain “because there was no defense in the game.”
Wizards: Visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
Nuggets: At the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.
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Mike Cranston, The Associated Press