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Nikola Jokic triple-double, Michael Porter Jr. 31-point game lead Nuggets to win over Knicks

After a successful week on the road, the defending NBA champions treated Ball Arena to a quintessential Denver Nuggets game.

Michael Porter Jr. continued his hot streak with 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting, and Nikola Jokic amassed 30 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a 113-100 win over the New York Knicks on Thursday night.

Jamal Murray added 23 points before going to the locker room early with an apparent leg injury in the last minute of regulation, as Denver (49-21) was pulling away for its 13th win in 15 games since the All-Star break.

“Just turned his ankle a little bit,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, not seeming too concerned despite the prolonged amount of time Murray took to get up after an awkward landing.

The Nuggets and Thunder are tied atop the Western Conference standings, though Oklahoma City possesses the edge in win percentage as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Porter is averaging 21 points per game since the break.

When they visited Madison Square Garden at the end of a five-game January road trip, the Nuggets sleep-walked through their worst assist-to-turnover game (20 to 19) of the season. New York’s formidable defense stood tall, with OG Anunoby snatching six steals.

“When you get your (butt) kicked,” Malone said pregame Thursday, “they have our full attention.”

Except this time, the Knicks were wrapping up a four-game Western Conference trip, and Anunoby (among other key players) was out with an injury.

Denver’s extraordinary starting five feasted. Jokic was one rebound shy of his 22nd triple-double of the season by halftime. Porter had a 6-for-6 shooting half, reminiscent of his recent perfect game in Los Angeles. Murray combined unlikely off-hand finishing with adventurous play-making. Aaron Gordon spun around defenders for a transition dunk. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope minimized Jalen Brunson as much as possible, keeping his 26 points to 23 shot attempts.

“I just really, sincerely hope that the national media and everybody else following this great league really takes into account the great job he does every night,” Malone said. “We see it. I see it every day. … But he is an incredible defensive player You don’t stop a guy like Jalen Brunson. He had two 40-point games on this road trip. But I thought he made him work for everything tonight.”

In a particularly breathtaking third-quarter sequence, Gordon initiated a set from the left wing by passing to Jokic, who was stepping up toward the top of the key. He thrives when he can operate from the middle of the floor with his back to the basket. From the right wing, Porter motioned to his right to push his defender (Donte DiVincenzo) back a step, to the same level as Jokic — basically creating a screen for himself. Porter slid back to the left, received a dribble handoff as DiVincenzo went underneath Jokic, and shot-faked as DiVincenzo left his feet to contest. Gordon’s man, Josh Hart, was stuck in no man’s land as Gordon slipped to the basket. Porter passed to him, and Gordon kicked to Caldwell-Pope in the corner as Brunson collapsed. Two extra passes, three points.

Less than a minute later, Jokic swung a cross-court pass over his back to Porter in the same corner for another three. There were so many highlights that Porter’s self-alley-oop off the glass was almost an afterthought.

But Denver’s second unit execution struggled to keep up with the starters. The Knicks started the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run that got them within 90-88 as Malone brought Jokic and company back in with 8:19 to go.

He had one highlight to rule them all still saved in the tank. With 5:13 left and the lead still somewhat precarious at 98-92, he lofted a short baseline fade-away shot from behind the basket, over the top of the backboard (or perhaps grazing the top) and in. He was fouled, too.

“Whether it’s from half court against Golden State or behind the backboard tonight, he has an uncanny ability to make tough shots,” Malone said. “Again, I just caution everybody not to take him for granted. Not that anybody does. But another triple-double. … He’s an MVP candidate every year for a reason.”

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