Nuggets aim for 4-0 start as they host Kings
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Beating the Phoenix Suns in their home opener was predictable, but defeating the reigning NBA champs less than 24 hours later was even more rewarding for the Denver Nuggets.
They'll take that momentum and an unbeaten record into Tuesday night when they host the Sacramento Kings. The Nuggets (3-0) are trying to win their first four games for the first time since going 5-0 in the 2009-10 season.
Denver's fast start is due in big part to its defense. No opponent has eclipsed the 100-point plateau, including Golden State. The Warriors scored 98 and were denied the century mark on an unlikely block by reserve forward Juancho Hernangomez in the final seconds Sunday night.
"If we defend, we can pretty much outscore everyone in this league," forward Torrey Craig said after Sunday's win. "Defense is really our main focus this year."
That 100-98 win also topped a big opening week for center Nikola Jokic, who was named the Western Conference player of the week on Monday. Jokic joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only two players in NBA history to post a 30-plus point triple-double and be perfect from the field, which he accomplished Saturday night.
Jokic 23, averaged 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.67 steals and 1.00 blocks in Denver's three wins while shooting .632 from the field and .500 from 3-point range. He became the first player ever to record a 30-plus point triple-double on 11 or fewer field-goal attempts.
His big week, and plenty of help from Gary Harris, helped the Nuggets overcome the loss of swingman Will Barton. Barton suffered a hip/core muscle strain Saturday, which was diagnosed after an MRI was performed Sunday. The Denver Post reported Monday he will have surgery on Tuesday and be out until December.
Craig started in place of Barton against the Warriors and will stay in that role against the Kings.
Stopping Sacramento's offense will be a challenge. The Kings (1-2) are averaging 125.7 points a game and are coming off a 131-120 win at Oklahoma City on Sunday night. They hope they're No. 2 offense can keep it up in Denver.
"You know with the youth that we have, with the athleticism that we have, we're going to push the pace," guard De'Aaron Fox told The Sacramento Bee after Sunday's win. "So they're asking a lot from me to play like that for such a long time, but I want to do that. I want to be able to do that."
Scoring is up around the NBA, with every team averaging more than 102 points after Sunday's schedule. Sacramento's early results are striking because it finished last in the league in 2017-18 at 98.8 points a game.
The Kings could struggle to hit that total against Denver. The Nuggets are allowing just 95.7 points a game and have been stingy in the fourth quarter. In their opener, they clamped down in Los Angeles to beat the Clippers with a late defensive surge.
Then Hernangomez came up with a big block on Damian Jones to keep the Warriors from reaching 100 points.
"This is the defense I dream about, ever since I got here," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after Sunday's game. "I firmly believe in defense being the corner piece to being a championship-level team. We've preached it, talked about and haven't gotten it done. That's on me as a head coach. But the players deserve the credit."
Updated October 23, 2018