Sports Denver back on top as Porter shines in Miami win

MIAMI: Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points as reigning NBA champions the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 100-88 on Wednesday to reclaim top spot in the Western Conference.

In a low-scoring clash between last year’s NBA Finals rivals, Denver led for most of the first half before the Heat edged ahead with a third-quarter rally, only for the Nuggets to regain their advantage.

Denver pulled clear in the fourth quarter, with Reggie Jackson draining a 26-foot stepback three with just over three minutes remaining to put the Nuggets 10 points up at 94-84.

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was restricted to 12 points after a disciplined Miami defensive effort, but that just allowed more space for Porter Jr., who drained five three-pointers in a 9-of-16 shooting display.

Porter Jr. said his impressive performance owed everything to his teammates engineering time and space for him to shoot freely.

“Did you see the shots I was getting? They were wide open threes, so it’s really my teammates, all credit to them,” Porter Jr. told ESPN.

“We’ve got a good, well-balanced team so when you take something away, there’s another option. That’s what it was tonight.”

Denver’s fourth straight victory saw them improve to 46-20, leaving them half a game clear of Oklahoma City at the top of the Western Conference.

It’s the first time Denver have led the standings since November, suggesting Michael Malone’s men are hitting form at the right time as they chase the top seeding for the playoffs.

“It feels good,” Porter Jr. said of reclaiming top spot. “It feels like we’re back where we belong. We wanted the No.1 seed and we’ve been playing well since the All-Star break.

“But we’ve got to hold on to it though, there’s a lot of good teams in the West, so we’ve got to come into every game knowing that people are coming for our spot.”

Porter Jr. received scoring support from Aaron Gordon with 16 points and Jamal Murray with 14.

Bam Adebayo led Miami’s scorers with 17 points. The Heat’s fourth consecutive defeat leaves them eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 35-30 record.

In other games, Luka Doncic scored 21 points and Kyrie Irving 23 to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 109-99 victory over the short-handed Golden State Warriors, who were missing the injured Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

“We played well on the defensive end, and from the first tip of the basketball at the start of the game we had physicality,” Irving said.

“That was the big difference tonight.

“We knew they were kind of struggling and they’ve had a few tough games, and we wanted to make it tough for them tonight.”

The only sour note for Dallas was the departure of Doncic midway through the fourth quarter, ending the Slovenian star’s seven-game triple-double streak.

Doncic exited with tightness in his left hamstring and did not return.

“He gave me the signal that his hammy was tight so we took him out,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “We’ll have a better answer tomorrow.”

The Sacramento Kings dominated the Los Angeles Lakers en route to a comfortable 120-107 win in northern California.

The Lakers’ Austin Reaves reeled off seven three-pointers to finish with a game-high 28 points but Los Angeles were unable to stem the flow of Sacramento scoring.

All five Kings starters finished in double figures, with Harrison Barnes leading the scoring with 23 points.

In Florida, the Orlando Magic kept their push for a playoff berth on track with a 114-106 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Paolo Banchero led Orlando with 21 points on a night when seven Magic players finished in double figures. Cam Thomas topped the scoring for Brooklyn with 21 points.

Cleveland leapfrogged Milwaukee into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 116-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, who went into the game on the back of a four-game win streak.

Darius Garland led the Cavs scoring with 27 points, with Jarrett Allen adding 17 and Georges Niang 16.

In Indianapolis, DeMar DeRozan erupted for 46 points as the Chicago Bulls took down the Pacers 132-129 in overtime.

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