MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hit hard recently by injuries, the Denver Nuggets have managed to remain on track in the top-heavy Western Conference race. Michael Porter Jr. has been one of the main reasons.
Porter posted his second double-double in three games with 20 points and 14 rebounds, helping the short-handed Nuggets overtake the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-100 on Monday night.
“He’s impacting the game at such a high level. He’s growing up in front of our eyes,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.
Jerami Grant scored 19 points and Nikola Jokic had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets, who again had three of their top five scorers absent — Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris Jr. — and were playing on back-to-back nights. Porter, the 2018 first-round draft pick whose rookie season was ruined by a back injury, was a major factor in the victory.
“He’s an amazing talent. You see how his ball is going into the hoop. It’s a swoosh every time,” Jokic said.
The 6-foot-10 Porter went 7 for 12 from the floor for the second 20-point game of his budding career, having just begun to get regular playing time within the last three weeks.
“Just helping the team win, not going out there and thinking about me,” said Porter, who keyed a 19-5 spurt late in the second quarter with nine points and five rebounds after the Nuggets fell behind 46-36 for their largest deficit of the night.
Karl-Anthony Towns outplayed his rival Jokic with 28 points and eight rebounds and reserve Josh Okogie added 16 points, but Minnesota dropped its sixth straight game. The Timberwolves surrendered 50 points in the paint and were outrebounded 40-31.
“We’ve got to have that fight. We’ve got to go get that ball. It’s all of us,” Towns said.
The Nuggets had that toughness, coming up with just enough second-chance opportunities down the stretch to demoralize a struggling opponent.
“It’s like building a sandcastle at the ocean, and then it just gets wiped away, and then you’ve got to start it all over,” Towns said.
The Wolves were mostly within one possession in the second half, cutting their deficit to 88-85 with 8:33 left on a dunk by Keita Bates-Diop over the top of Jokic, But Porter responded with a 3-pointer soon after to double the lead. Malik Beasley, who had 11 points off the bench, helped the Nuggets create some more space.
Towns had a three-point play with 2:48 remaining that brought the Wolves within 102-98, but they couldn’t get enough stops when it counted the most. Monte Morris popped out to swish a mid-range shot from the wing for Denver on the next possession.
Okogie snagged a give-and-go pass from Robert Covington for a dunk that cut the lead to four points again, and Towns had the ball in the post after Jokic missed a 3-pointer, but he couldn’t get the ball to fall in a crowd around the basket that had Towns complaining about no foul call. Then Will Barton III, who had 18 points, sealed the deal with a 3-pointer on the other end.
“This was just a character win, man. I couldn’t be more proud of the group,” Malone said.
The Timberwolves have played at home on Martin Luther King Jr. Day more often than not over their history, and Covington gave a brief pregame welcome to the crowd with a message of unity. Players wore black warmup shirts that read, “We cannot walk alone.”
Nuggets: Millsap (sprained/bruised left knee) missed his seventh straight game. Harris (strained right adductor muscle) was out for the fourth consecutive game. Murray (sprained left ankle) was sidelined for the third game in a row. … Backup center Mason Plumlee briefly joined the injured crew in the second quarter when he rolled his right ankle. He returned in the third. … The Nuggets are 6-2 on the second half of a back-to-back set of games this season. They’re 13-7 on the road.
Timberwolves: Newly acquired shooting guard Allen Crabbe had three points and three assists in 16 minutes. His debut was delayed by an illness that kept him out on Saturday against Toronto. … The Wolves dropped to 3-17 against teams with a winning record at the time of the game, including 2-10 at home.
Nuggets: Play at Houston on Wednesday. They lost 130-104 to the Rockets on the road on Dec. 31.
Timberwolves: Play at Chicago on Wednesday, their only road game in a 14-day span.
By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer
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