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NBA highlights on Jan. 9: Murray sets season high for Nuggets to win

Jamal Murray (C) of the Denver Nuggets drives toward the rim in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jamal Murray (C) of the Denver Nuggets drives toward the rim in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jamal Murray (C) of the Denver Nuggets drives toward the rim in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

The Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 122-109 at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, on Monday, ending the Lakers’ five-game winning streak.

Home fans witnessed their star point guard Jamal Murray drop season-high 34 points, including scoring 10 points in both the second and fourth quarters. He shot 5-for-9 from downtown, but Murray’s two-point field goal (FG) rate of 40 percent in Monday’s game was mediocre for someone of his calibre.

However, the rest of the Nuggets made the right decision to feed Murray as much as possible. Having missed over 100 games in the previous two seasons because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on his left knee, Murray has been trying to find his best form since he returned this season. Though he rarely scored in an explosive way during the regular season, he displayed his high-volume scoring ability with two 50+points games against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs two years ago. The Nuggets need that incredible Murray back in form to achieve a breakthrough this season.

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

When Murray took on the more offensive role like he did on Monday night, Nikola Jokic played it quite easy. He only took five shots, made all of them, but still dropped a triple-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. He became the first player in NBA history to get 10+points, 10+rebounds and 15+assists while shooting at 100 percent from the field.

Compared with the Nuggets that played their best roster on Monday, the Lakers missed four of their key members, including two of their “Big Three,” Anthony Davis and LeBron James. As a result, the purple and gold were seriously disadvantaged in size in almost every position on the floor.

Under such circumstances, coach Darvin Ham decided to go with zone defense, closing in around the paint and double-teaming the ball-handler next to the baseline and two boundaries as the Lakers’ main defensive tactics. Such arrangements in addition to the quickness of the Lakers led to 12 steals by the team and 17 turnovers by the Nuggets.

Nonetheless, such performances were achieved at the cost of leaving too many open 3-pointers. The Nuggets shot only 30.3 triples per game, the second-fewest among 30 teams, this season. By contrast, they took 42 attempts from downtown in Monday’s game and made 15 of them.

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots in the game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots in the game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots in the game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 9, 2023. /CFP

The Lakers’ size disadvantage also hurt them in offensive efficiency and protection of rebounds. Since the team has the worst spacing in the league, they did the right thing by charging the paint as much as possible. However, 11 of their shots were blocked and more were deflected by the Nuggets’ defenders who are much bigger than their Lakers counterpart. Moreover, though the purple and gold often had more players in their own paint, they still allowed more offensive rebounds by the opponents (14-11).

Russell Westbrook continued to come off the bench for the Lakers though both James and Davis sat out Monday’s competition. Some of his offensive calls were as controversial as they have always been, but Westbrook’s energy and 21 points in the second half were what kept the game alive until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Other games on Monday (away teams come first):

CJ McCollum (L) of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2023. /CFP

CJ McCollum (L) of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2023. /CFP

CJ McCollum (L) of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2023. /CFP

New Orleans Pelicans 132-112 Washington Wizards

The Pelicans avoided the third consecutive loss thanks to the dominant performances of C.J. McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas, who combined to score 61 points at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Monday night. The team exploited well the Wizards’ sloppy protection of the ball and vulnerable interior defense, producing handsomely in fast break (27) and second-chance points (21), as well as points in the paint (74).

The Wizards suffered their third loss in a row at home. Their starting center Daniel Gafford exited the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. Kyle Kuzma was fouled out during the opponents’ 15-0 rally that extended the deficit to over 20 points. The team lost to the Pelicans for the first time since January 2011.

Jayson Tatum (#0) of the Boston Celtics reacts after making a 3-pointer in the game against the Chicago Buls at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jayson Tatum (#0) of the Boston Celtics reacts after making a 3-pointer in the game against the Chicago Buls at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jayson Tatum (#0) of the Boston Celtics reacts after making a 3-pointer in the game against the Chicago Buls at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Chicago Bulls 99-107 Boston Celtics

The Celtics locked in as leaders of the NBA in the first half of the 2022-23 season after securing their 29th win at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday. Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams had the most points in the starting lineup (32) and off the bench (20) respectively. The team led by as much as 16 points in the third quarter and managed to hold out against the Bulls’ counterstrike in the final quarter.

The Bulls were on the edge of falling apart when the Celtics extended the deficit quickly in the third quarter, not to mention that their best-performing player this season, DeMar DeRozan exited the competition with a right quad injury. Zach LaVine, who was performing poorly in the first three quarters, stood out in the fourth period by getting 15 points in that quarter alone. Though the Bulls failed to reverse the situation in the end, LaVine’s performance in the fourth quarter should ease their pain of missing DeRozan for three to six weeks.

Jrue Holiday (#21) of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots in the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jrue Holiday (#21) of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots in the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Jrue Holiday (#21) of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots in the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City, January 9, 2023. /CFP

Milwaukee Bucks 111-107 New York Knicks

The Bucks wiped a 17-point deficit in the second quarter and drained 19 shots from downtown at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Monday to avoid the second consecutive loss. Jrue Holiday scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, helping the team launch a 38-29 rally to win on the road.

Despite the loss, the Knicks saw Jalen Brunson drop new career-high 44 points at home. Compared with him who made 15 of his 30 FGs, four of 10 triples and all 10 free throws, Julius Randle missed 20 of his 29 attempts, including going 1-for-12 behind the arc. It is hard for Knicks fans not to blame Randle and his poor performance for Monday’s loss.

San Antonio Spurs 113-121 Memphis Grizzlies

Orlando Magic 111-136 Sacramento Kings


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