Murray’s 50 points power Nuggets past crumbling Cavaliers

  • Jamal Murray dunks during the Denver Nuggets’ game against Clevelant on Friday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 50 points, All-Star starter Nikola Jokic had a triple-double and the Denver Nuggets adjusted to a schedule change by handing the Cleveland Cavaliers their ninth straight loss, 120-103 on Friday night in a matchup hastily arranged by the NBA due to COVID-19.

Murray hardly missed, making 21 of 25 shots, including 8 of 10 3-pointers. He didn’t attempt a free throw.

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According to Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the first player in league history to score 50 or more points without shooting a free throw.

“To do it as efficiently as he did it is really remarkable,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “That’s an incredible stat line.”

With the Cavs still hanging around in the fourth, Murray made three 3-pointers in 65 seconds to push Denver’s lead to 21. He scored 20 in the final quarter before being replaced with 2:23 left.

Collin Sexton scored 23 and Jarrett Allen 20 for Cleveland, which had a couple days to prepare for the Nuggets but still couldn’t stop them.

Not the way Murray was shooting.

Murray celebrated his third straight long-range make — from 33 feet — to open the fourth by pounding his chest and screaming toward fans. He scored Denver’s first 13 in the last quarter, and then passed his previous career best of 46 points by draining another 3 — on Jokic’s 10th assist — with 4 minutes left.

Michael Porter Jr. added 22 points for the Nuggets. On his 26th birthday, Jokic had 16 points and 12 rebounds in getting his seventh triple-double this season.

A stopover in Cleveland was not originally part of Denver’s travel itinerary for a four-game trip. However, when the league postponed three San Antonio games — including one against the Cavs on Wednesday — earlier this week because of virus cases on the Spurs, the Nuggets were re-routed.

They made their first 12 shots, opened a 22-point lead in the second half and then let Murray close out the Cavs.

The Nuggets thrashed the Cavaliers on Feb. 10, beating them by 38 points and prompting Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff to criticize his players for being “embarrassed.” He expected a better effort in the rematch between the teams.

“I hope our guys respond,” he said 90 minutes before tip.

Cleveland played better, but didn’t have enough firepower to stay with the Nuggets.

Or Murray.

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Nuggets: F JaMychal Green injured his left shoulder running through a pick in the first minute. … Green was starting for Paul Millsap, who sat out his third game in a row with a sprained left knee. … Jokic is the Nuggets’ first All-Star starter since Carmelo Anthony in 2011 and the third Denver player since 1976-77 to be selected to three consecutive games, joining Alex English and David Thompson. Jokic learned of his All-Star nod while the team was having dinner Thursday night. Coach Michael Malone was moved by the “genuine excitement” everyone felt for Jokic, who is posting career highs across the board.

Cavaliers: F Taurean Prince missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. … F Kevin Love (strained calf) took part in practices the past few days and is nearing a return after missing most of the season. He’s been out since Dec. 27. … Cleveland’s starters did not record a rebound in the first quarter.

76ERS 112, BULLS 105

PHILADELPHIA — All-Star Joel Embiid scored a career-high 50 points in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 112-105 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

Embiid added 17 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals in a dominating performance at both ends.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers. They played without Ben Simmons (illness) for the second straight game and clinched coaching duties for Doc Rivers at the All-Star Game.

Zach LaVine scored 30 points for the Bulls.

With the 76ers clinging to a 107-103 lead, Embiid blocked LaVine’s driving attempt with 1:02 remaining, then hit a 17-foot baseline jumper with 41 seconds left. When the Bulls called timeout, Embiid jogged to center court and put both hands up as if requesting cheers from the empty seats while the speakers played artificial “M-V-P!” “M-V-P!” chants.

SUNS 132, PELICANS 114

NEW ORLEANS — Chris Paul had 15 points and a season-high 19 assists, spearheading an 11-point, fourth-quarter comeback in Phoenix’s victory over New Orleans.

Paul, who rose to stardom with New Orleans after being drafted fourth overall in 2005, appeared to be gesturing that he owned the arena after hitting a step-back 3 that gave Phoenix a 118-107 lead with less than five minutes to go. The Suns outscored the Pelicans 41-12 in the final quarter.

Paul’s decisive 3, his third of the game, was one of 22 the Suns hit from deep on 39 attempts (56.4%). Jae Crowder hit six 3s on his way to 20 points, and Frank Kaminsky made five 3s for the bulk of his 17 points. Devin Booker scored 23 points to help the Suns rebound from a tough home loss to Brooklyn to win for the 10th time in 12 games.

Brandon Ingram scored 25 points for the Pelicans, and Zion Williamson added 23. They’ve lost five of six.

MAGIC 124, WARRIORS 120

ORLANDO, Fla. — Nikola Vucevic had 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists for his third career triple-double and Orlando overcame a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Golden State.

Vucevic made two free throws with 16 seconds left to put Orlando ahead 123-120 after Warriors star Stephen Curry hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute.

Curry missed an off-balance 3-pointer from 27 feet with five seconds left that could have tied it. He finished with 29 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. Golden State was trying to win three straight games for the first time this season, but failed to get past two in a row for the seventh time.

Evan Fournier scored a season-high 28 points for Orlando, and Terrence Ross had 24 points and four 3-pointers. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 26 points for Golden State.

BUCKS 98, THUNDER 85

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 29 points, a season-high 19 rebounds and eight assists, and Milwaukee beat Oklahoma City to snap a five-game skid.

The Bucks avoided their first six-game losing streak since March 12-22, 2015. They hadn’t lost five straight since Jan. 25 to Feb. 3 in 2017.

Khris Middleton added 20 points for the Bucks. Lu Dort had 17 for the Thunder.

CELTICS 121, HAWKS 109

BOSTON — Kemba Walker scored a season-high 28 points and Boston held off Atlanta.

Jayson Tatum added 25 points and eight rebounds, and Jaylen Brown and Tristan Thompson each finished with 17 points to help Boston take the second of back-to-back meetings between the teams. The Hawks won the first meeting Wednesday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 31 points. Atlanta has lost five of six.

GRIZZLIES 109, PISTONS 95

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ja Morant scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half, Jonas Valanciunas added 17 points and 15 rebounds and Memphis rallied to beat Detroit.

Kyle Anderson added 16 for Memphis. Jerami Grant and Delon Wright led the Pistons with 16 points each.

RAPTORS 86, TIMBERWOLVES 81

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MINNEAPOLIS — Norman Powell scored a season-high 31 points and Toronto closed with an 11-0 run to beat Minnesota for its third straight victory.

Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

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