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Apr 1, 2024 9:01 pm

Victor Wembanyama, Spurs battle Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Wembanyama Jokic

The reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets have clinched a playoff spot and are looking forward to what they hope is another lengthy postseason run. The San Antonio Spurs have their sights on the future, which appears bright with Victor Wembanyama as the new cornerstone of the franchise.

Denver (52-23) reached the postseason for the sixth straight season with a win over Cleveland on Sunday and is second in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Oklahoma City, as of Monday.

Nikola Jokic’s 23rd triple-double of the season helped the Nuggets overcome Jamal Murray’s absence for the fifth straight game. The two-time NBA MVP had 26 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists, the fifth time in his career he’s recorded a triple-double with at least 25 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists.

It added to Jokic’s MVP resume and impressed his teammates.

“He’s one of the most gifted scorers in this league and he doesn’t want to score,” Reggie Jackson said. “He wants to pass the ball and play the right way, which makes him extremely hard to guard.

“If you play the right way, you always got a chance to get a shot. He’s a supernova; he’s the brightest star. Honestly, he’s the sun. Everything revolves around him.”

But to have a deep playoff run, Denver will need Murray to be healthy. He is battling right knee and left ankle soreness but is progressing, coach Michael Malone said. Malone and his staff are being cautious with Murray to make sure he is ready for the postseason. He’s questionable for Tuesday’s game.

San Antonio (18-57) is dealing with injuries but has played well without Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan and Dominick Barlow. The Spurs had impressive wins over Phoenix, Utah and New York before losing to Golden State on Sunday.

Vassell (foot) and Sochan (left ankle impingement) will miss the rest of the season, the Spurs announced Monday.

“He has played so many precious minutes for us, doing all the dirty (work) and the hard job,” Wembanyama said of Sochan. “He has just been such a great asset for us on both sides of the court and it showed, for example, against New York. He is precious for us.”

The Spurs’ absences gave opportunities to Cedi Osman, Zach Collins and Sandro Mamukelashvili against the Warriors and they played well.

“To have the combinations that we had out there with the guys that hadn’t played too much, I’m just so proud of them,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’ve come a long way from the beginning of the year to now, to be able to play a team like that.”

It will be tougher going against Denver, even if Murray sits. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has continued to play strong perimeter defense. He held Cavaliers All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to 13 points on Sunday while Jackson has been solid while starting for Murray.

“I’ve been having some struggles, I know I’ve had ups and downs, been in a slump quite a bit lately and trying to find my way out of it,” Jackson said.

–Field Level Media

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