Nuggets without Jokic as Suns visit
The Denver Nuggets won't have star center Nikola Jokic for Friday night's home game against the Phoenix Suns.
Jokic was suspended one game without pay for leaving the bench Wednesday night during an altercation between teammate Mason Plumlee and Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors, the league announced Friday.
Plumlee was fined $25,000 and Favors assessed $15,000. Both players were ejected.
Jokic took steps off the bench along the baseline during the altercation but said he didn't step on the court.
The 23-year-old Jokic leads the Nuggets in scoring (19.8 points per game), rebounds (10.3) and assists (7.7). He has played in all 46 games for the Nuggets, who sit in second place in the Western Conference, two games behind the Golden State Warriors.
The Nuggets have the best home record (20-4) in the conference. Denver's win totals since the 2014-15 season have increased from 30 to 33 to 40 to 46 last season.
Phoenix is last in the West and headed toward another lottery pick, having lost six games in a row. However, the Suns have two building blocks -- guard Devin Booker and rookie center Deandre Ayton -- whom any team in the league would covet.
After Booker scored 27 points in the Suns' 120-106 loss to the Trail Blazers on Thursday, he is averaging 24.3 points and 6.8 assists per game.
Ayton missed his third consecutive game with a sore ankle, though he was a game-time decision the past two contests. He is averaging 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds.
Dragan Bender has started while Ayton has been out, and the third-year man has held his own against Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Portland's Jusuf Nurkic. Bender produced back-to-back double-doubles against the Timberwolves on Sunday (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Tuesday (13 and 10), then scored 17 points Thursday.
He vows to be ready if Ayton is not.
"Get in. Be professional. Do your work. Do what you need to do," Bender said. "Be prepared for whatever happens. Just have got to be ready and do your job."
What is certain for the Suns is they will be without T.J. Warren, who will miss at least two weeks with an ankle injury sustained Tuesday. Warren is averaging 18 points per game this season.
Denver has become one of the league's best on the defensive end, allowing just over 106 points per game. Opponents are making only 34.1 percent of their 3-point attempts, and their rebound differential is plus-4.9, both figures ranking with the NBA leaders.
Yet after the loss to Utah, Denver's defense came under fire. The Jazz made 13 3-pointers in the first half and 19 in the game.
"I think we had to play eight games in 11 days or something, or eight games in 12," Nuggets forward Torrey Craig said, according to the Denver Post. "So after a while, it's effort. It's being tired, mentally, physically. (You) just have to stay locked in and push through it."
Malone lamented that his team sometimes plays down to the opponent's level and other times the Nuggets think they can win with better offense.
"The defense is not where it needs to be," Malone said, according to the Post. "Especially with the quality of games that we have left on our schedule."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 25, 2019