Jokic, Nuggets move within a win of West finals

Jokic (right) dropped 25 points. (AFP pic)

DENVER: Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 19 rebounds and six assists, Paul Millsap scored 24 points, and the host Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 124-98 in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.

Denver, which took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, also got 18 points and nine assists from Jamal Murray. Gary Harris finished with 16 points, and Malik Beasley and Will Barton scored 10 points apiece for the Nuggets.

Game 6 is Thursday in Portland, where the Nuggets won Sunday in Game 4 to take back home-court advantage. Game 7, if necessary would be played Sunday in Denver. One more win by the Nuggets would put them in their fourth Western Conference finals and first in 10 years.

Damian Lillard scored 22 points for Portland, which faces an elimination game for the first time in this year’s playoffs. Rodney Hood and Zach Collins scored 14 points each, and CJ McCollum added 12 points.

The Nuggets never trailed, led by as many as 31 and outscored Portland 62-40 in the second and third quarters.

Millsap hit a floater in the lane and Will Barton made two 3-pointers an 8-0 run to start the second quarter, extending Denver’s lead to 14. Lillard hit a 3-pointer to get the Blazers back within 43-36 midway through the period, but the Nuggets then started to pull away.

Murray hit two reverse layups and a 3-pointer to push the lead to 61-43. After two free throws by Lillard, Millsap was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit the free throw to convert the four-point play with 15.1 seconds left before halftime.

Portland got within 15 early in the third quarter, but the Nuggets responded with a big run. Murray had another reverse layup and followed Millsap’s miss with a put-back dunk, and Jokic’s offensive rebound made it 85-60 with 4:10 left in the third.

Murray fed Mason Plumlee for an alley-oop, and Jokic hit two free throws to cap a 26-10 run and give Denver a 91-60 lead. The Blazers missed 12 consecutive shots and went 5:48 without a point.

Portland was 7-for-28 shooting in the third quarter and missed 10 of 13 3-point attempts, helping Denver take a 93-65 edge into the final period.

The Blazers made an early run in the fourth to get within 20, but the Nuggets closed it out.