DENVER - It was a Srećan Božić, or merry Christmas, for Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Friday at Ball Arena.
The Julian calendar is still used in the Serbian Orthodox Church, so Christmas is observed on Jan. 7. The Nuggets and their reigning Most Valuable Player weren’t selected for a Christmas game stateside, but Jokic celebrated in a 121-111 win over Sacramento with 33 points to lead seven Nuggets in double figures. It served as his gift to the team.
“The assists is the gifts,“ rookie Bones Hyland said.
“Just Jok being in our presence is a gift to us.”
Jokic also grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out seven assists Friday. JaMychal Green wasn’t ready for one no-look pass from Jokic, but when Denver’s star hit him with a no-look bounce pass in transition midway through the second quarter, JaMychal Green finished with a dunk to cap the highlight.
“I’m just running the floor, you know, going to the paint,” he said. “I just see Jok hit the no-look. I just had to be ready.”
Jeff Green added 18 points off Denver’s bench, while Bones Hyland (13), Monte Morris (13), JaMychal Green (13), Aaron Gordon (10) and Will Barton III (10) scored in double figures.
“We had a lot of guys playing off the ball. We made some great cuts off their reads, off their actions,” Jeff Green said, noting the Nuggets reacted appropriately when Sacramento sent doubles Jokic’s way.
“We made some great passes. We got everybody involved, and that’s how we’ve got to play.”
Denver scored 70 of its points in the paint.
“They try to take away the 3, and you can score inside on them,” acting coach Popeye Jones said. “We were able to really take advantage of scoring inside.”
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 30 points.
The Nuggets finished with assists on 10 of their 14 buckets in the first quarter and led 35-23 to start the second.
“A lot of teams are going to focus on Jok, so it’s just our job to cut and make those plays,” JaMychal Green said. “We know he can pass it.”
The Nuggets stretched the lead to 20 in the second quarter and led by 12 at halftime with assists on 18 of their 26 field goals.
“Our defense, most importantly, is what got us that lead. I think we were great on the defensive end,” Jeff Green said. “We were connected, and when we got stops, we got out in transition. We shared the ball, and we played together. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Kings closed within four points early in the third quarter, but JaMychal Green answered with a couple of dunks. The Nuggets led by 11 to start the fourth and cruised to a second straight home win. The Nuggets finished with 32 assists, good for a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“That means we’re sharing the ball,” Jones said. “Only eight turnovers, we’re taking care of it. We got out in transition.”
After splitting two home games this week, the Nuggets are off for a quick two-game road trip, which starts Sunday in Oklahoma City, before returning to Ball Arena for six straight home games.
“We haven’t taken care of home this year. We were 1-6 in our last seven at home,” Jones said. “We got to start playing better at home and taking care of home (court).”