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NBA Playoffs: Jokic helps Denver Nuggets clinch playoff berth

The Nuggets clinched a top-six spot in the Western Conference playoffs and avoided the four-team play-in.

DENVER — The Denver Nuggets clinched a playoff berth Thursday night with a 122-109 win over the Memphis Grizzlies behind 35 points from Nikola Jokic and 22 from Aaron Gordon.

Jokic took an inadvertent elbow from Jaren Jackson Jr. to the right forehead and temple that drew blood in the opening minute and he went to the sideline for treatment.

After having to retreat to the bench a second time, Jokic donned a red headband for the remainder of the game as he helped the Nuggets (48-33) overcome a shaky start to avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Grizzlies.

The Nuggets clinched a top-six spot in the Western Conference playoffs and avoided the four-team play-in.

They can still win the Northwest Division with a victory Sunday night against the Lakers and two losses by the Utah Jazz (48-32), who finish up against Phoenix and Portland.

Credit: AP
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, is defended by Memphis Grizzlies center Steven Adams during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Desmond Bane had 14 points for the Grizzlies, who were coming off an overtime loss at Utah on Wednesday night, have already captured the first division title in their history along with securing the second seed in the West.

They're hopeful of getting All-Star guard Ja Morant back this weekend from a right knee injury that has sidelined him since March 18.

Jokic was hit in the head on the Grizzlies' first bucket, a drive by Jaren Jackson Jr., and retreated to the bench for treatment. He wasn't back on the court for long before returning to the sideline for more treatment and a red headband.

Jokic's 13-foot spinner jumper sparked a 20-3 run that he capped with a layup, turning an early 10-point deficit into a 34-28 lead.

Gordon had 20 points by the time the Nuggets took a 70-53 cushion into halftime, and Jokic's fast-break dunk made it 101-71 late in the third quarter.

The Nuggets led 120-96 when Jokic, who pulled down 16 rebounds, left the game for good with about 3 1/2 minutes left.

RELATED: Denver beats Michigan 3-2 in overtime

RELATED: Avalanche clinch playoff spot with win over Penguins

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: Memphis remains one win shy of tying the franchise record for wins in a single season (56-26 in 2012-13). ... Despite back-to-back losses to Utah and Denver, the Grizzlies finished 26-15 away from home, the NBA's second-best road record behind the Suns' 31-9 mark.

Nuggets: PG Jamal Murray missed his 81st game, but the Nuggets still haven't ruled out a return either Sunday in the regular season finale or in the playoffs. Murray tore his left ACL last April 12 and Jokic said recently he's admonished his fellow star not to return if he's not 100%. ... Rookie Bones Hyland committed fouls with 1.5 seconds and 0.8 seconds left in the first and third quarters, respectively.

MORE MORANT

The Grizzlies’ leading scorer, Morant has ramped up his work over the last week. Morant is averaging 27.6 points. He missed 12 games earlier this season with a left knee sprain and sat out the game before getting hurt at Atlanta with back soreness.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said they would like to have at least one game with their full contingent before the postseason. But health matters more.

“If that’s not what’s the recommendation of the medical team, we don’t feel like that’s the smartest move, then we won’t do it,” Jenkins said.

UP NEXT

Grizzlies: Return home to face New Orleans on Saturday and Boston on Sunday to wrap up the regular season.

Nuggets: Wrap up the regular season at home Sunday night against the Lakers, who are sitting out these playoffs.

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