The Denver Nuggets are enjoying their spot in rarefied air.
Coach Michael Malone is all for taking time to enjoy their stunning stature, but he doesn’t want anybody resting on their laurels.
The Nuggets are tied for first place in the Western Conference with the Golden State Warriors as they look for their sixth straight victory when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.
Denver has won 15 of its past 19 games after a resounding 136-122 home win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night, a result that prompted Malone to take a moment to soak in the efforts of a team with a 36-15 record.
“I think you have to along the way stop and appreciate what we’ve done,” Malone said during his postgame media session. “It’s a fine line because I’m not saying stop and celebrate and think that we’ve arrived, because we haven’t. We have so much more to do.
“But if you don’t enjoy the victories and don’t enjoy the moments, then what are you doing it for?”
All-Star center Nikola Jokic was his typical stellar self with 31 points (on 12-of-15 shooting), 13 rebounds and nine assists against the Rockets, but he didn’t even deliver his squad’s best performance on a night in which Denver scored 83 first-half points.
Third-year guard Malik Beasley stepped into a primary role with starting guards Jamal Murray (ankle) and Gary Harris (groin) sidelined and poured in a career-high 35 points on 12-of-17 shooting.
“I definitely think this is a statement performance to show the world who I am,” Beasley told reporters afterward. “I’m not just out there on the bench. I’m not just on this team with a lot of great players. I am a player.”
Beasley figures to see a lot of action again on Saturday, with Murray expected to sit out his fifth straight game and Harris doubtful.
Minnesota halted a two-game skid on Wednesday when All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns knocked down a shot as time expired in overtime for a 99-97 home win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Towns scored just 16 points after recording 20 or more in 16 of the previous 17 games. He is averaging 22.6 points and 12.1 rebounds and has 33 double-doubles.
“He’s been dominating all season long, putting up numbers,” Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggins told reporters of Towns. “He’s unstoppable. He gets double-teamed, triple-teamed every game.”
The Wolves have been short on point guards and hope to get Derrick Rose (ankle) back after a three-game absence. Jeff Teague (foot) will miss his sixth straight game, and Tyus Jones (ankle) will sit out his eighth consecutive contest.
Combo guard Jerryd Bayless was pressed into 43 minutes at point guard against the Grizzlies and posted a career-high 12 assists. Bayless also scored 19 points while recording his fifth career double-double.
“It’s been 11 years for me to get this opportunity, and I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can,” Bayless told reporters after the contest. “I know how rare and how hard it is for these to come about.”
Minnesota forward Robert Covington (ankle) will miss his 15th straight game, and there remains no timetable for his return. He did participate in some light shooting after Friday’s practice.
Denver power forward Paul Millsap scored 25 points — matching a season high — as the Nuggets recorded a 103-101 road win over the Timberwolves on Nov. 21.
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