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Kevin Durant scores 30 points to lead Suns past short-handed Nuggets

DENVER — Kevin Durant had 30 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks and the Phoenix Suns won in Denver for the second time this month, beating the defending champion Nuggets 104-97 on Wednesday night.

The Suns, with the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, moved a half-game ahead of Sacramento for the seventh spot in the Western Conference as they try to move up to sixth to avoid a play-in game. Dallas is No. 6, a half-game ahead of Phoenix.

The Western Conference-leading Nuggets struggled without starting point guard Jamal Murray, who missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle.

Nikola Jokic had 22 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists as he fought through lower back pain and left hip soreness.

The Nuggets, a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City and Minnesota, lost for just the third time in 18 games since the All-Star break, and two of those losses have come at home to the Suns, who prevailed 117-107 in overtime at Ball Arena on March 5.

Denver won six straight games at home after that, but Wednesday night were again victimized by terrific long-range shooting from the Suns, who made 16 of 33 shots from behind the arc. Denver was 10 of 40 on 3s.

Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon each added 18 points for Denver, but the Nuggets’ bench shot just 5 of 19.

Jusuf Nurkic was out for Phoenix with a sprained right ankle after the center was hurt in the third quarter of the Suns’ 104-102 loss at San Antonio on Monday night.

Bradley Beal left that game with a sprained right ring finger, but he started Wednesday night and sank a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter, setting the tone for another sizzling shooting performance by the Suns, who sank 15 3-pointers at Ball Arena in their last visit.

Thad Young’s fadeaway 6-foot jumper over Jokic’s outstretched arms gave the Suns a 59-52 halftime lead, and Durant scored half of Phoenix’s points in a 10-0 run the Suns used to take control early in the third quarter at 71-56.

Devin Booker got away with two fouls on one play in which he forced a turnover, inadvertently slapping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the face and drawing blood, then cross body-blocking Jokic, who lost the ball out of bounds as he stumbled over a sprawled-out Booker.

That served to energize the Nuggets, who pulled to 71-68 late in the third quarter. But they watched the Suns re-establish themselves via a turnaround jumper from Durant and back-to-back 3-pointers from Booker and Eric Gordon that restored Phoenix’s double-digit lead that was never really threatened again.

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