Nikola Jokic bounced back to Denver Nuggets duty as though he had never been away as the win at Miami Heat was described by coach Michael Malone as "a great pain reliever".

The superstar Serbian, MVP in the NBA last season, had missed four successive games because of a wrist injury amid Denver's six-game slide.

That was their worst such stretch since 2014-15 and saw them fall away after making a 9-4 start to the season, but prospects for Malone's men are looking up now that Jokic is fit.

After sinking the Heat 120-111 in Miami, there was a warm mix of emotion and relief in the Nuggets' locker room.

Jokic posted 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, and seemingly that effort had changed everything.

Bones Hyland, the 21-year-old Nuggets point guard, shot a career-high 19 points including five three-pointers, and said: "It felt good going back into the locker room.

"I felt as though the guys were trying to win so bad just because Nikola was out. We know what he provides, and we were trying to fill his shoes and those are big shoes to fill.

"Him being back, everybody's a team now, playing through him, and it felt good for sure."

Malone had to search for the correct terminology to describe the post-game emotion.

"I don't know if relief is the right word, but there was definitely some joy, some smiles, some hugs," said the coach.

"As corny as that sounds, man, winning is a great pain reliever. We've all been down in the dumps and to get this win tonight kind of just stops all of that and allows us to get back to feeling good about ourselves."

He said playing without Jokic had been "a little bit different" to losing any other player.

Quoted on NBA.com, Malone struck an upbeat tone, saying: "I love the guys in the locker room. I'll go to war with them. Obviously, tonight was just one win. But after losing six in a row, by no means have we said, 'We're gonna change our goals now'. There's 62 games left, so much basketball to be played. So, you move on and play another day."

Jokic was not given an easy ride by the Miami crowd, facing boos every time he touched the ball due to the dust-up he and the Heat's Markieff Morris had in a November 8 game. Morris has missed 11 consecutive games since the incident.

He is big enough to handle such hostility though, saying afterwards: "I played in Serbia, so I wish you guys could feel that."

The 26-year-old Jokic is averaging 26.2 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists this season, so ostensibly this was a par performance. How the Nuggets had missed him at his most routine though.

Jokic felt there was a collective improvement in the team, adding: "Everybody played well. We had seven players in double figures. So, everybody shared the ball. Everybody touched it."

Michael Malone described Damian Lillard's staggering record-breaking performance as "superhuman" in the Portland Trail Blazers' dramatic playoffs defeat to the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets took a 3-2 series lead at Ball Arena on Tuesday after edging a double-overtime thriller 147-140.

That was despite an incredible display from Lillard, who scored 55 points – including a playoffs-record 12 three-pointers – from only 24 shots.

Lillard's points haul was his best in the post-season and the third-highest in a defeat in playoff history behind Michael Jordan's 63 against the Boston Celtics in 1986 and Donovan Mitchell's 57 versus the Nuggets last year.

The point guard also provided 10 assists and Nuggets coach Malone saluted his exploits.

Malone said: "Damian Lillard was superhuman tonight."

Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets with 38 points as they got their noses in front in the series.

The center was full of admiration for Lillard and warned the Nuggets must try and find a way to stop the six-time NBA All-Star from making such an impact.

Jokic said: "He was incredible. He made some top shots, he put his team on his back and he was just carrying in.

"We tried, but we need to be better just to take the ball off his hands, especially later in the game, but it was kind of a pleasure to be on the court to witness that."

Damian Lillard expects to see Aaron Gordon again in the remainder of their first-round playoff series after an improved defensive showing denied the Portland Trail Blazers superstar a postseason record.

Lillard had 34 points in Game 1 as the Blazers upset third seed the Denver Nuggets.

And the six-time All-Star was in sensational form to start Game 2 with 32 points by half-time, including eight three-pointers from 11 attempts.

That tied Vince Carter's mark for the most threes in a half in the playoffs and Lillard appeared certain to reach Klay Thompson's 2016 game record of 11 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lillard himself made 10 against the same team in 2019.

But the Nuggets switched Gordon onto Lillard and Portland's main man made only a single further shot from beyond the arc as he was limited to five attempts.

It meant Lillard, who led the league with 173 clutch points this season, had only 10 points in the second half and two in the fourth quarter – both from the free-throw line.

Asked about Gordon's defense after Denver levelled the series, Lillard said: "I expect it to continue. [I need to be] just moving around more off the ball, getting more off-ball sets.

"Usually bigger guys can use their length and athleticism on the ball, but when you start to move around on flares and pindowns and things like that, typically you can get a little bit of space."

The Blazers point guard was perhaps surprised the Nuggets did not start by getting Gordon out to him.

"It's just a bigger defender, taller guy, more athletic, just a big body," he said.

"But I'm used to that; usually throughout the regular season, whoever their defensive wing or taller wing is, that's who guards me.

"Like the Phoenix game, Mikal Bridges guarded me; Golden State, Kelly Oubre guards me. I'm always against a bigger wing.

"That's an adjustment they went to in the second half. But I think they just gave me more attention, more so than it was just one guy. I'm never going against one guy."

Even before that change, though, the Nuggets were 12 points up, and they ran out 128-109 winners after 38 points from leading MVP candidate Nikola Jokic.

Denver coach Michael Malone said: "That right there was a playoff game.

"The intensity, you had two high-level players in Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic playing at their respective levels, the crowd was great.

"But it was chippy. And that's the way it should be. We're both fighting for something. That's the way the playoffs should be. I loved it. That's my kind of game right there."

Nikola Jokic joked he is glad the "world doesn't put the bigs aside" after another stellar showing enhanced the Denver Nuggets star's MVP chances.

The giant centre drained 47 points in a 139-137 double-overtime thriller against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, including a go-ahead three in the second additional period.

Jokic added 15 rebounds and eight assists in steering the Nuggets to a third straight win in the absence of Jamal Murray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

It was Jokic's 51st double-double of an impressive campaign and only narrowly short of a 16th triple-double.

Such impressive form has Jokic well and truly in the MVP conversation and he would be the first center to win the prize since Shaquille O'Neal did so in 1999-2000.

"It's really good for big men. I'm just glad the world doesn't put the bigs aside. We're still popular," Jokic said.

"I had a really good night. I scored a lot and I had a couple of stupid turnovers I can easily fix. It was good night for me and the team."

Head coach Michael Malone feels Jokic has shown on plenty of occasions this season that he deserves individual recognition.

"Life is about a bunch of little moments and I think Nikola's got around 56 little moments this year where he's shown he's the MVP. 

"Tonight was a character win."

The Nuggets are 37-20 for the season after their win and sit fourth in the Western Conference.

Nikola Jokic and the whole Denver Nuggets roster have to be better at channelling their frustrations after a baffling collapse against the Boston Celtics, head coach Michael Malone has said.

The Nuggets were seemingly coasting to a ninth straight NBA win when a three-pointer from Facundo Campazzo late in the third quarter had them 79-65 in front.

But things unravelled spectacularly, with the Celtics hitting the final nine points of the third and the first six of the fourth to take the lead in the game for the first time.

The Celtics went on an astonishing 31-3 run and outscored the Nuggets 31-8 in an outstanding fourth quarter to win 105-87 against one of the league's hottest sides.

Jokic, among the leading contenders for the MVP award this season, was sat down by Malone with a little over four minutes remaining for going after the officials on back-to-back possessions before a timeout.

Malone had sympathy with his star player but said the whole team need to keep their discipline in the heat of battle.

"Regarding Nikola, he gets frustrated with the referees and what he perceives to be a lack of calls, and you understand that," Malone said. 

"But that can never take you away from your duty as a basketball player. So that's something that he, myself and all of us can definitely be better at."

For his part, Jokic – who had 17, points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – believes the arguments with the officials are just par for the course in the NBA.

"I think the whole 30 teams are complaining and whining," he said. 

"We are just one of them. It's just how the game goes. They're doing their job. We need to do our job. Sometimes it's miscommunication, like arguments, of course, like in every job."

The Nuggets were playing for a sixth time in nine nights and were without Jamal Murray (knee) for a fourth straight game.

Malone again stressed the need for his team to keep their cool, but is already itching to get back into it.

"We have to be better," he said. "They turned up the heat, got into us, switched everything, and we allowed that to kill our offensive flow, and then we started complaining and whining, not getting back. Not competing.

"[But] the best thing about the NBA is we get on a plane this afternoon, go to Golden State and try to right the ship and play at a much higher level than we played today."

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone described the efficiency of Jamal Murray's 50-point haul as "remarkable".

Murray went 21-of-25 from the field and eight-of-10 from three-point range to post 50 points in the Nuggets' 120-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Malone lauded the guard's performance after the Nuggets improved their record to 16-13.

"I've been around a lot of great players, I've been in the league for a long time, I've seen many 50-point games," he said.

"To do it as efficiently as he did is really remarkable."

Nikola Jokic finished with a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nuggets.

Murray said the Nuggets' numerous threats made his life easier against the Cavaliers.

"I can shoot a little bit. Once I see a few go down, I just took off from there and kind of mixed it up," he told Altitude TV.

"I was able to get to the rim on them when they tried to change the coverage and we've got a lot of weapons. You can't just flat-out double me when I'm hot, you've got a 'Joker' [Jokic], who's MVP of the season, he'll pick you apart if you're playing four on three especially.

"I feel like it was just a tough task to be able to deal with both of us and the rest of the team as well."

Nikola Jokic has become a more aggressive scorer because he was beaten with a pillowcase full of soda cans by Mike Malone, the Denver Nuggets coach joked.

Nuggets center Jokic had 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in three quarters as Denver cruised to a 119-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old has had at least a double-double in each of his 14 games this season and is averaging a triple-double of 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists – all of which represent career highs.

Jokic's best scoring season was 2018-19 when he averaged 20.1 points per game, and Malone gave a light-hearted response when asked what has motivated the Serbian to become more prolific.

He replied: "I locked him in my office one day and I beat him with a pillowcase full of soda cans and I said: 'You've got to score more!'"

In a far more serious tone, Malone continued: "You know how he is, he's a great player, he's playing at an MVP level. You go back to tonight, 27, 12 and six, only one turnover.

"Early on they were playing him one-on-one, and sometimes I get frustrated because I don't think we give him the ball enough, especially when he's being guarded one-on-one.

"Nikola has seen every possible double-team, and so have we as a team. We space the floor correctly and he is so willing to find the open man, and we had great possessions against the double-team.

"He's always going to take what the defense gives him but he is being more aggressive, which is what we need from him."

The Nuggets are 10-2 against the Thunder since 2017-18, their best record against any Western Conference opponent in that span.

Denver's latest victory saw them improve to 7-7 on the season, but they are yet to hold a winning record this season after never being .500 or worse after their first game in the previous campaign.

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