DENVER — Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson each scored 20 points to help the San Antonio Spurs move closer to securing a spot in the play-in tournament by beating the Denver Nuggets 116-97 on Tuesday night.
The Spurs had a chance to lock up at least the 10th seed in the Western Conference should the Los Angeles Lakers lose later in the evening.
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 41 points and 17 rebounds for the Nuggets, who had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win after Minnesota lost to Washington.
The Spurs had six players score in double figures as they won in Denver for the first time since Jan. 5, 2017. But it wasn't easy even after San Antonio built a lead that stretched to 21 late in the second quarter.
The Nuggets cut it to four early in the fourth, only to see the Spurs go on a 14-2 surge to regain momentum. One of the key plays was when Davon Reed tried to make a behind-the-back pass that was stolen by Tre Jones, who went in for a layup. Jones finished with 14 points and 10 assists.
The Nuggets entered the night fifth in the Western Conference, with a slim lead over Utah and two games in front of the seventh-place Timberwolves. Denver can wrap up a top-six seed and avoid the play-in tournament with a Minnesota loss or by winning one of its final two remaining home games.
Teams seeded Nos. 7-10 compete in the play-in tournament.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was given a technical in the second quarter for arguing a call with official Tony Brothers.
It came almost a week after Austin Rivers was ejected by Brothers when the guard faked throwing an elbow on Indiana's Lance Stephenson. Malone said Brothers told him it was malicious act by Rivers.
Jokic later picked up a technical in the second half as well — not from Brothers.
Spurs: G Dejounte Murray didn't play due to a respiratory illness. ... It was San Antonio's fifth straight road win. ... Josh Richardson had 18 points and four 3-pointers.
Nuggets: G Jeff Green (personal reasons) was a late scratch. ... Rivers had a basket overturned when officials later determined he stepped out of bounds. ... F Aaron Gordon had 18 points and 13 boards.
Asked the best way to contain Jokic, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded: “I don’t think anybody has figured that out. He’s a great one.”
HOME SWEET HOME?
At 22-17, the Nuggets haven’t been as dominant at home this season. On the road, though, they’ve won a franchise-best 25 games.
“Can’t explain it. I really can’t,” Malone said of the struggles at Ball Arena.
MPJ & MURRAY UPDATE
Malone didn’t rule out a possible return of forward Michael Porter Jr. (back) and point guard Jamal Murray (knee) at some point.
“Yes, you have that in the back of your mind. We could get reinforcements,” Malone said. “But you also have to help the guys that are ready and available to play.”
Spurs: At Minnesota on Thursday.
Nuggets: Host Memphis on Thursday.
>>Video above: Arapahoe HS senior Levi Lips lives out his dream of announcing the Nuggets game
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