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Kings open two-game set with West-leading Nuggets

Dec 25, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) drives to the net against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) in overtime at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets made their appearance on Christmas Day a memorable one, but they have to pivot quickly to the road after winning a thriller over the Phoenix Suns.

The Nuggets’ 128-125 overtime win anchored the Christmas schedule and turned into the Aaron Gordon show with a seven-dunk performance that overshadowed Nikola Jokic’s seventh triple-double of the season. Denver now plays a pair of games at Sacramento, starting with a Tuesday night matchup against the Kings.

The Nuggets have won four in a row and seven of their last eight to move atop the Western Conference standings. Jokic has been the catalyst for the surge, but he has had plenty of help from Jamal Murray and Gordon, who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds against Phoenix.

Gordon has come on strong this season, especially in December, during which he is averaging 19.8 points and 6.6 rebounds in 11 games. Denver acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline and signed him to a contract extension this fall, but he is finally now playing alongside Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for an extended time.

The Nuggets had hoped trading for Gordon was the final piece for a championship team in 2021, but Murray got hurt soon after and missed all of last season.

Now with everyone back, Denver is seeing what Gordon adds to the lineup, and he gets high praise from Jokic, the two-time reigning league MVP.

“AG is like a guy who maybe doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he is a really good part of this team,” Jokic said after Sunday’s win. “He can do everything on the floor. When he has nights like (Sunday), it’s good.”

The Kings bounced back from an 0-4 start to the season to sit three games above .500 and a half-game behind the fifth-place Suns in the Western Conference. Sacramento is coming off a tough home loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday night that may have been more costly than just in the standings.

Domantas Sabonis sustained a right hand injury late in Sacramento’s 125-111 defeat. He had notched his second straight triple-double and 10th consecutive double-double in the contest, and he is averaging 17.9 points, 12.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists this season.

The team announced Monday that Sabonis has an avulsion fracture of the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb.

“It’s one of those things that, initially, you think it could be a long (absence), but he’s listed as questionable (for Tuesday) based on what all the medical experts say,” Kings coach Mike Brown said.

Sacramento guard Kevin Huerter added, according to the Sacramento Bee, “(Sabonis) is a huge part of what we do. There’s no secret to that. Over the past couple weeks, the triple-doubles and the 20-rebound games, it’s hard to replace that kind of production. …

“We’ve got to plug guys in (if he is sidelined) and just try to get used to playing with each other in new lineups.”

Losing Sabonis for any amount of time would put more responsibility on De’Aaron Fox and the other starters as well as the bench. The reserves, outside of 16 points from Malik Monk and 14 from Trey Lyles, weren’t much of a factor in the loss to Washington.

–Field Level Media