Nikola Jokic finished an assist shy of a triple-double and the Denver Nuggets held off the Dallas Mavericks 125-114 on Friday night to open the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament.
Jokic had 33 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. He was 14 of 16 from the field on Denver’s new, vibrant blue-and-yellow court.
Michael Porter Jr. scored 24 points, and Jamal Murray had 18 points and 13 assists for the NBA champion Nuggets, who led by 20 points in the third quarter before seeing Dallas trim it to eight late in the game. Jokic made a cutting layup with 1:11 remaining to seal it.
The Mavericks lost for the first time this season. Luka Doncic finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists but also had nine turnovers. Kyrie Irving chipped in 22 points.
Dallas was without coach Jason Kidd, who didn’t make the trip due to a non-COVID-19 illness. Top assistant Sean Sweeney took his spot on the bench.
Jokic showed rare emotion in the first half, letting out a scream after making a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Speaking of long distance, the 3-point line on the Nuggets’ colorful court had to be repainted before the game after it was discovered to be the wrong distance.
This marked the first In-Season Tournament game for each team. The Nuggets, wearing their “5280” uniforms, and Mavericks are in West Group B with the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston. The six group winners make the quarterfinals, along with a pair of wild-card teams — the two best second-place finishers from the groups.
One of the tiebreakers that will be in play during the tournament is point differential, which may affect whether coaches take their foot off the gas pedal even if up big. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said there’s an “unwritten rule about respecting the game, respecting your opponent but at the same time, if this is going to help us advance, you have to use everything to your advantage.”
Quarterfinal games are Dec. 4 and 5 at higher seeds; the semifinals are Dec. 7 in Las Vegas and the title game is Dec. 9 in Las Vegas as teams compete for the NBA Cup.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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