Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, goes up for a basket as New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones, left, defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DENVER — Jamal Murray is locked in right now — with his shot, with his swagger and especially with his confidence in his team.
“It’s fun to play basketball,” the Denver point guard said. “But we still have room to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at.”
Murray scored 32 points, Nikola Jokic got his 16th triple-double of the season and the Western Conference-leading Nuggets held off the reeling New Orleans Pelicans 122-113 on Tuesday night.
Murray made a season-high seven 3-pointers to give him 771 for his career and move him past J.R. Smith for second place on the franchise list. He’s just 33 away from matching Will Barton for the top spot.
“I’ll get that in three games,” cracked Murray.
His smooth jumper was so in rhythm early in the game Tuesday that Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t want to take him out. Malone didn’t, either, until later than usual.
“I don’t want to be the guy that puts the fire out,” said Malone, whose team trailed by 12 in the second quarter before closing the gap to 60-57 at halftime and taking control in the third. “Jamal was really, really good in all areas of the game tonight.”
Ditto for Jokic, who finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and 15 assists as the Nuggets improved to 16-0 when he has a triple-double.
“I’m happy as long as we are winning games and the players are happy around me,” Jokic said.
CJ McCollum and Herbert Jones both scored 21 points for the Pelicans, who have dropped nine straight games. They finished 3-13 in January.
Part of the reason for the slide has been the absence of standout Zion Williamson, who has missed 15 games in a row with a hamstring injury.
“We’ve got to keep our heads down and keep working,” coach Willie Green said. “It’s hard to win in the NBA. We’re seeing that. There was some beauty in what I saw tonight. … We’re right there, but we have to sustain it for 48 minutes.”
The Nuggets led by 13 early in the fourth quarter only to see the Pelicans cut it to five on several occasions, including a layup by Jones with less than a minute remaining. Murray and Jokic each converted a pair of free throws down the stretch to help Denver fend off New Orleans and move to 23-4 at home.
Jokic, who’s been dealing with tightness in his left hamstring, had another efficient shooting performance in going 10 of 14 from the floor. It was the 92nd triple-double of his career.
“He was pretty dominant across the board,” Green said.
Pelicans: Williamson is steadily progressing from a strained hamstring, according to Green. “It’s something we don’t want to rush, but we’re definitely excited to see him on the floor,” he said. … Brandon Ingram finished with 16 points and nine assists. … Larry Nance Jr. scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Nuggets: Rookie guard Collin Gillespie (broken right leg) has been cleared for shooting and light running. “We’re not putting any pressure or a rush on him,” Malone said. … Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon each had 15 points.
Nuggets guard Bones Hyland was limited to 4:43 and scored two points. His name has been mentioned in trade speculation.
Asked where he stands with Hyland, Malone responded: “I stand with Bones. Bones is on our team.”
Hyland was selected to the NBA’s Jordan Rising Stars Challenge. So were Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado and forward Trey Murphy III. The mini-tournament will take place on Feb. 17 in Salt Lake City as part of All-Star weekend.
Pelicans: At Dallas on Thursday to finish a three-game trip.
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