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Vlatko Cancar holds block party as Nuggets snatch NBA-best eighth road win over Clippers

Mike Singer, The Denver Post on

Published in Basketball

Vlatko Cancar held a block party and John Wall wasn’t invited.

For the second consecutive game, Cancar made his presence felt on both ends of the floor for the Denver Nuggets. When Wall took off early into the fourth quarter on a fast break, perhaps the last thing on his mind was that he’d be caught by Cancar. But when Denver’s fleet-footed forward blocked the layup off Wall, the Nuggets’ bench, led by Nikola Jokic, erupted.

The Nuggets knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers 114-104 on Friday night and improved to 12-7 on the season. It was also their NBA-best eighth win away from Ball Arena. The Nuggets registered 27 assists to only six turnovers and capitalized in abundance on Los Angeles’ 14 miscues.

Denver didn’t skip a beat without Michael Porter Jr. (heel), Bones Hyland (illness) or Jeff Green (knee), though in fairness, Los Angeles was down stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Denver got stellar play from Nikola Jokic and will finally return home to Denver where they’ll earn a small reprieve. That will come in the form of two home games, beginning Monday, against Houston.

On Friday, they took care of business. Here’s how they did it…

Murray’s mid-range: After returning from health and safety protocols on Tuesday, the Nuggets wisely gave Jamal Murray a rest on Wednesday in order to get his conditioning back.

From the outset against the Clippers, Murray looked rejuvenated. He flew out on defensive contests, navigated around screens and communicated in a way that didn’t happen vs. Detroit. Against the Pistons, Murray looked gassed in the first half.

On Friday, he had his bounce back. With 21 points and nine assists, Murray drained a number of his patented mid-range looks. As more started to fall, Murray started bouncing as he tends to do when he gets into a rhythm. And when he got the matchup he wanted, Murray was more than happy to set up camp near the rim and work over his defender from the interior. He looked like he did before he entered protocol.

Gordon’s growth: When Aaron Gordon is aggressive and confident, he’s a different caliber player. And when he’s hitting jump shots like he’s done of late, he becomes close to unstoppable as a third or fourth option in the offense. After saving the Nuggets with three clutch 3-pointers vs. the Thunder, he carried that same swagger into Friday night.

 

When the Clippers left him open from the 3-point line a few minutes into the third quarter, Gordon calmly stepped in and drained it. As he trotted back on defense, he muttered to himself that if they were going to leave him open, he’d shoot that shot every time.

Look at what he’s done in November — 17.5 points per game on 66% shooting, including 58% from the 3-point line with 7.4 rebounds per game. Those are the numbers of a bad, bad man.

Gordon finished with 29 points on 12-for-16 shooting on Friday. In the second half, he did most of his damage on the offensive glass where he hauled in five of his seven rebounds. Gordon might be in the best groove he’s ever been in with the Nuggets.

Ishy with it: It’s easy to overlook the value of third-string point guards when a team is fully healthy. But when they’re depleted, as the Nuggets have been for a week or two, any and every absence is amplified.

Enter Ish Smith, who returned to the court Friday for his first game since Oct. 30. A balky calf had kept him out 11 games. Those games coincided with health and safety stints for both Bones Hyland and Jamal Murray. Jokic, the point guard, helped, but so did Bruce Brown.

Finally, Smith returned and injected life into Denver’s second unit. There’s always a noticeable uptick in the team’s pace when Smith is orchestrating, and even at 34, he is still exceptionally shifty. He creates looks for others while still being adept and crafty enough to score for himself.

What no one could’ve predicted, though, was when Smith timed Norm Powell’s second-quarter jumper and stuffed him like a Thanksgiving turkey. The sequence led to a Denver run-out, punctuated by a one-handed alley-oop from Smith to Brown. Smith banked in a couple other open jumpers in the first half. It was a reminder of how he can step in and serve as a capable safety blanked when Hyland, Murray or Brown are unavailable.

©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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