NBA: Jokic outduels Wembanyama, Nuggets overcome Spurs

NBA: Jokic outduels Wembanyama, Nuggets overcome Spurs

/ 02:03 PM April 03, 2024

Jokic vs Wembanyama Nuggets beat Spurs NBA

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, and San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama reach for the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER — Chalk this one up to Nikola Jokic after Victor Wembanyama came up just short of outdueling the player who is hoping to soon pick up his third MVP award.

Jokic scored 42 points and outdueled the Rookie of the Year favorite in the Denver Nuggets’ 110-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night to retake sole possession of first place in the NBA Western Conference.

Jokic also grabbed 16 rebounds and had six assists. Wembanyama had 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and nine blocks. Three of Jokic’s baskets came on rare dunks, something he said he had to do facing the sensational rookie.


“He had like 600 blocks tonight, but we got the win,” Jokic said after Denver leap-frogged Oklahoma City atop the Western Conference playoff race.

The Nuggets (53-23) took a half-game lead over Oklahoma City, which lost 109-105 at Philadelphia earlier Tuesday night. The Minnesota Timberwolves (52-23) kept pace with Oklahoma City when they beat Houston 113-106.

Jokic’s hook shot broke a 103-103 tie but Wembanyama’s layup at the other end knotted it up again with a minute remaining.


Michael Porter Jr., who had 15 points and a career-best 16 rebounds, made a 3 with 28 seconds left to put Denver up 108-105 and Wembanyama missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left but the Spurs burned 10 seconds before Wembanyama fouled Jokic, who sank both free throws with 8 seconds remaining.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he couldn’t be happier with how Wembanyama led his team to a near upset of the defending NBA champions despite missing several injured starters.


“That’s one of the most competitive games I have been part of for many years,” Popovich said. “For 48 minutes, under difficult circumstances, these guys just played … the effort for 48 was really impressive, the best I’ve seen all year. And like I said (for) several years, losing sucks, but to see how far they have come this season is really a joy.”

Wembanyama was exhausted after trying to keep up with Jokic and logging 34 tough minutes in Denver’s thin air.

“It’s very demanding” going up against Jokic, Wembanyama said, adding that the altitude was “just one difficulty among others. We have to adapt to this just like we have to adapt to plenty of other factors.”

Such as Jokic making 18 shots, twice as many as Wembanyama did.

Even with the Spurs missing Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan and Keldon Johnson, all suffering from foot injuries, San Antonio was no pushover for the Nuggets, who were without point guard Jamal Murray (knee) for a sixth straight game.

The Spurs got double-digit scoring from seven players, including Malaki Branham, who scored 24, and Tre Jones had his third career triple-double (10 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists).

Hounded by Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets’ best defender, Wembanyama missed 20 shots, but more than made up for it with all his passing and his defense.

Wembanyama is making leaps in so many areas as he approaches his first lap around the NBA, and the Nuggets say it’s scary to think how good he’ll be one day.

“He’s going to be really, really, really, really, really, really good,” Gordon said.

Jokic said Wembanyama has a good mix of humility, work ethic and hunger “and that’s a really good combination.”

Jokic said he had to adjust his game against Wembanyama, altering the arc of his shots and getting extra space in the post against the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama, who is tied with Boban Marjanović as the tallest active NBA player.

“Of course I didn’t do a good job today. He blocked six, seven shots,” Jokic said. “But he’s a special player and you always have to do special acts to score against those guys. But I think when he learns and he figures it out, he’s going to be an even bigger problem.”

Popovich, for one, is looking forward to more Wemby vs. Joker matchups to come, beginning with a rematch in San Antonio on April 12.

“Well, sure. Victor gained a lot of respect tonight becaus e Nikola is the best,” Popovich said. “For Victor to want to guard him and to learn, it was a real testament to how good he wants to be. To go up against Nikola, like I said, shows a lot. And he is learning by the minute.”

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Spurs: At New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

Nuggets: At Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

TAGS: Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

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