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Nuggets face struggling Kings again, seek sixth straight win

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

The Denver Nuggets have been historically poor on the road but are starting to show they can win away from altitude.

Denver has a 10-8 road record after Tuesday night’s win at Sacramento, and the Nuggets can notch another victory when the same two teams play again at the Kings’ arena on Wednesday night.

The Nuggets rallied from 20 points down in the first half to beat Sacramento 113-106 for their fifth straight win, and they did it without two key pieces.

Aaron Gordon, the dunking star from the Christmas Day overtime win over Phoenix, was a late scratch Tuesday with a shoulder strain, and he watched the game in street clothes. Denver then lost Bruce Brown to an ankle sprain in the first half.

Coach Michael Malone said Brown’s injury didn’t appear serious, but both players are questionable for Wednesday night.

“Aaron Gordon woke up, and that shoulder was pretty sore,” Malone said. “We’ll see how he feels (Wednesday). If it loosens up and he’s able to go, great. If not, we’ll get him ready for Miami on Friday night.”

The Kings played Tuesday without Domantas Sabonis due to an avulsion fracture in his right thumb suffered in Friday’s loss to Washington. Meanwhile, coach Mike Brown was placed in the health and safety protocol earlier Tuesday, and assistant Jordi Fernandez led the team.

The Kings didn’t announce if Brown would be cleared for the second game against Denver.

Fernandez, a former Nuggets assistant under Malone, has seen what Nikola Jokic can do to a team, and Sacramento smartly made him the focus of its defense Tuesday night. Jokic attempted only two shots in the first half and scored two points.

“Nikola is a great player, but talk about the definition of being a selfless player,” Malone said. “I said to him at halftime, ‘I have to get you more than two shots.’ He said, ‘Coach, it’s OK, they’re double-teaming me every time. I’m just going to keep making the right play.’ He never worries about that stuff; he just wants to win.”

Jokic finished with 20 points, 11 assists and was a rebound shy of a triple-double.

The Kings, meanwhile, have lost five of their past eight games, including two straight at home. Not having Sabonis is tough for a team that is trying to stay in the playoff race.

Sacramento recovered nicely from an 0-4 start to this season and was four games above .500 before losing to the Wizards and Nuggets. After the loss to Washington, Brown lamented the team cannot afford to let down against any opponent.

“If we think we’re just going to show up and go through the motions because our record is what it is, we’re going to be in for a rude awakening,” he said.

Without Sabonis on Tuesday night, Fernandez inserted Alex Len into the starting lineup after he didn’t play in the previous game. Len was no match for Jokic and scored just two points in 14 minutes and picked up four personal fouls.

De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 26 points, and Kevin Huerter added 21.

–Field Level Media