DENVER (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 20 points and the Denver Nuggets overcame Nikola Jokic’s one-game suspension to race past Phoenix 132-95 Friday night, sending the short-handed Suns to their seventh straight loss.
Jokic, the Nuggets’ leader in points, rebounds and assists, was banished for a night by the NBA for leaving the bench during an altercation in Utah two nights earlier.
Although the suspension forced him to juggle his lineup and rotations, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said it didn’t “change our focus at all because that should not change no matter who’s playing in uniform. Obviously, when you are down your best player and an All-Star, other guys have to step up.”
Mason Plumlee got the start in Jokic’s absence and had 16 points, six assists and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. He was one of eight Nuggets who reached double figures in scoring, including reserves Malik Beasley (19 points) and Monte Morris (17).
Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points. They were without their own big man with DeAndre Ayton missing the game with a sprained left ankle, combining with Jokic’s suspension to rob this matchup of much of its star power.
Several of Ayton’s teammates were out with him, including his primary backup, Richaun Holmes (right foot). Forward T.J. Warren (sore right ankle) and guard De’Anthony Melton (right ankle) also missed the game.
Nuggets rookie Jarred Vanderbilt, a 19-year-old selected in the second round of the NBA draft out of Kentucky, made his pro debut in the waning minutes after recovering from ankle and foot injuries that sidelined him over the first half of the season. In 3 minutes, he had a point, an assist, a steal and three rebounds, then was doused by a couple of teammates with two cups of Gatorade after the buzzer.
Suns: Booker had 15 first-half points and his most impressive bucket was a high-arcing 28-footer that was in the air when the shot-clock buzzer went off, capping a helter-skelter possession. … The Suns fell to 4-21 on the road.
Nuggets: The second-chance points at halftime looked like this: Nuggets 14, Suns 0. … Denver won the season series 3-1. … The Nuggets improved to 21-4 at home, the best mark in the Western Conference. … The Nuggets closed out the first half on a 23-8 run for a 70-55 lead. … Denver improved to 15-1 when holding opponents below 100 points.
Suns: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
Nuggets: Host the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night when they get Jokic back.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports