By PAT GRAHAM
DENVER (AP) Rookie JAMAL MURRAY scored a career-high 30 points, including several high-soaring dunks, and the Denver Nuggets kept their postseason hopes afloat by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 122-106 on Friday night.
NIKOLA JOKIC added 23 points and 12 rebounds to help the Nuggets pull within a game of Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with three games remaining.
New Orleans’ ANTHONY DAVIS scored 25 points in nearly 24 minutes on a night when fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins sat out with tendinitis in his right Achilles. The Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday in a home loss to the Nuggets.
Murray was hitting from all over the court, finishing 10 of 14 from the field. He had a stretch in the fourth quarter where he scored eight straight points for the Nuggets. His previous high was 24 against Chicago on Nov. 22.
There was a wacky play early in the third quarter that actually shook the Nuggets out of their doldrums. KENNETH FARIED, falling out of bounds after catching a long pass, somehow threw it off the bottom of the backboard, then re-established himself on the floor in order to grab the ball. He drove in for a short jumper and drew a foul – he missed the free throw – as the Pelicans looked bewildered.
That play ignited the Nuggets, who outscored the Pelicans 41-24 in the third quarter to cruise to their third win in four games.
Nuggets: G JAMEER NELSON (strained calf) and WILL BARTON (sore left foot) didn’t play. … WILSON CHANDLER suited up despite missing morning practice with a migraine. He had seven points. … GARY HARRIS contributed nine of Denver’s 31 assists to go along with 20 points.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry compared Jokic’s game to that of a young Tim Duncan.
“I’ll probably get a bunch of calls, `How can you compare him to Tim Duncan?'” Gentry said. “But he’s a very smart player with very good footwork.”
DON’T GO THERE
Asked if it was easier to run a fast-paced offense with Cousins not on the floor, Gentry turned defensive.
“When a guy is averaging 27 (points) and (11 rebounds), to insinuate you’re a better team when he’s not on the floor, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Gentry said. “We can play up-tempo with him. We’ve done that with him.
“The only thing that we’re going through right now is a learning process of trying to figure out spacing and things like that with him and (Davis). I think they’ve done a great job considering the short amount of time it’s been. I think they’ll continue to get better and better.”
Pelicans: Stop No. 2 on their four-game road swing to end the season is Saturday in Golden State.
Nuggets: Home finale Sunday against RUSSELL WESTBROOK and Oklahoma City.
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