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Victor Wembanyama flirts with a quadruple-double, but Nikola Jokic scores 42 points in narrow Nuggets win

One player is making Denver’s potential season-long win over the struggling Spurs feel almost as difficult as defeating the mighty Lakers and Warriors was.

Victor Wembanyama, already looking like one of the best players in the league by the end of his rookie season, flirted with a quadruple-double on Monday night as the Nuggets struggled to deliver a decisive blow to San Antonio. But Nikola Jokic was tireless in his efforts to solve the Wembanyama puzzle, collecting 42 points and 16 rebounds in a 110-105 win.

Michael Porter Jr. sank the game-winning three-pointer with 26.7 seconds left thanks to a kick-out assist from Christian Braun, who sensed Wembanyama was on the verge.

“You expect Michael Porter to take every shot. And obviously he didn’t have the best night of shooting, but sometimes it doesn’t matter what you shot; It’s all about making the shot,” said coach Michael Malone. “And Michael’s three-pointers were a game-winner, a game-changer. …And I think CB was just incredible across the board. He’s not a point guard, but he does a really good job for us.”

The Nuggets (53-23) face San Antonio again in their next-to-last game as they battle for first place in the Western Conference. Joel Embiid did Denver a favor in his return from a meniscus injury on Monday by beating Oklahoma City, leaving the Thunder (52-23), Nuggets and Timberwolves (52-23) all tied on the loss list.

Wembanyama finished the night with 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and nine blocks.

“If he gets it wide out, I can guard him on the perimeter; “It’s just that he’s inside, he’s just so big that even if you force him to take a bad shot, he’s always there to keep going,” said Peyton Watson, who spent part of the game to guard the 20-year-old. “Most of all, I try not to deny it because he’s so big he can run away and they can throw a punch over his head. So I just try to push him out as much as possible and keep in touch with him. I’m glad he’s not that strong, otherwise he’d be super, super, almost unstoppable.”

When they faced off in Austin (no, not San Antonio) two weeks ago, Jokic adjusted to Wembanyama’s unnatural length by changing his arc, often making a run from the perimeter to receive entry passes and settling on a forward floater game left This allowed him to calculate how high he needed to get his shot into the air. This time he made it his immediate task to surpass Wemby’s wingspan. Whenever Jokic didn’t catch the defensive rebound, he slipped in transition.

In a convincing sequence, Wembanyama drove a left-handed bullet shot around Jokic and scored. Jokic let the ball fly quickly across the floor. Wembanyama picked him up as he crossed the half, then Jokic established himself on the right block. He appeared to beat the rookie with a post move, but was still brutally blocked on the layup attempt. When Wembanyama cleaned up a miss for an easy basket on the other side, Jokic was already cherry-picking in the timeline and motioning for a quick inbounds from Aaron Gordon. He sprinted to the rim with Wembanyama in pursuit and dunked it with conviction without a split second to spare.

When there was finally a dead ball, the two big men patted each other on the back and laughed wearily as they both asked for sweat towels.

“We are watching the rise of the next great player in the NBA,” Malone said.

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