Jokic scores 27 points, Nuggets beat Suns 110-98

PHOENIX (AP) – Nikola Jokic lived up to his old tricks on Wednesday night, scoring on a nifty array of hooks, 3-pointers and flat-footed jumpers.

In short, the reigning MVP still looks a lot like an MVP.

The 6-foot-11 Serbian had 27 points and 13 rebounds, leading the Denver Nuggets past the Phoenix Suns 110-98 in Game 1 for both teams. The Nuggets recovered from a 16-point deficit at the end of the second quarter and held the Suns to just 40 points in the second half.

“It’s a hell of a way to start the season,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “But it’s a game, there are 81 left.”

Jokic, 26, won his first NBA MVP title last season after averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. He was 13 of 22 in the field on Wednesday, providing a few crucial buckets in the fourth quarter to push back a Suns rally.

Malone said it’s obvious Jokic continues to be an elite player. Now the trainer is pushing Jokic to be a leader and wants his star’s voice to be heard in the squad during every downtime.

“Early in his career he was growing, maturing, dealing with adversity and referees,” said Malone. “He did that. He really got better.

The Suns were playing three months after losing Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix made much of the same roster, including Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s All-Star backcourt, to make another title run.

The teams were playing for the first time since the Suns swept the Nuggets in four games in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs last season.

This time it was Denver who had the upper hand. Will Barton scored 20 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 15.

Mikal Bridges led Phoenix with 16 points. Paul had 15 points and 10 assists. The Suns struggled with their shots in the fourth quarter, going nearly five minutes without scoring as the Nuggets took control. Denver’s Aaron Gordon had a huge chase block during this drought, hitting Booker’s layup in the stands behind the Nuggets bench.

“This is definitely the one we wanted to get,” Gordon said. “Start off on the right foot and you know, a little payback. We will see them again. It’s just a game.

Phoenix was leading 58-51 at halftime after a checkered first half that saw the Nuggets take a 25-16 advantage before the Suns rallied to a 57-41 lead late in the second . Denver had a late burst – capped by Jokic’s 3-point buzzer – to reduce the margin to seven points.

“We missed a ton of shots, put them in transition and our transition defense was below our standard,” said Suns coach Monty Williams.


It was Deandre Ayton’s first game since the Suns chose not to extend the former overall draft pick’s rookie contract before Monday’s deadline.

Ayton reportedly wanted a maximum deal, which would have lasted five years and worth $ 172 million. The Suns were unwilling to make the deal – at least not until this season – and both sides ended negotiations without a deal.

Ayton, 23, changed the course of his career in last year’s playoffs, helping the Suns advance to the NBA Finals. He contributed 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game while shooting 66% and providing stellar defense.

Ayton got off to a good start on Wednesday, leading the Suns with 13 points in the first half. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds.


The Suns changed the name of their arena from Phoenix Suns Arena to Footprint Center – which is a sustainable tech company that took over as title sponsor – halfway through last year’s NBA Finals.

The new name is not off to a good start. They are now 0-2 with the name, losing Game 5 of the Final and Game 1 on Wednesday.


Nuggets: G Jamal Murray was practicing before the game, setting up shots. He is rehabilitating an ACL tear in his left knee suffered last season. … Six Nuggets scored in double digits.

Suns: While most of the roster is the same, G Landry Shamet and C JaVale McGee both made their Suns debuts. Shamet finished with 11 points and McGee added six points and eight rebounds.


Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.

Suns: At the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.


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