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With Jamal Murray sidelined with an injury, the Nuggets blitz Pistons

No Jamal Murray? No problem for the Denver Nuggets, as they easily outclassed the visiting Detroit Pistons and old friends Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee on Tuesday night at Ball Arena.

“Everybody, that team from last year; I’m going to remember those guys for the rest of my life,” Nikola Jokic said. “We made history, something no one had ever done, coming back from 3-1 two times. So it’s always going to be nice to see them.”

After a 134-119 loss that was far closer than the scoreboard made things look, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey didn’t mince words.

“They shot 60 percent, basically, so we didn’t present any opposition defensively.”

Though it was 59.6 percent, to be precise, Casey wasn’t wrong; the Nuggets sliced and diced their defense in almost effortless fashion all night, with only a first-quarter scoring outburst by Grant to keep things relatively close early. As Murray cheered from the bench Tuesday with a knee injury, Monte Morris started, and Will Barton picked up the offensive slack.

Barton, the forgotten man starting among the Nuggets’ new “Big Four,” poured in 24 points, grabbed six assists, handed out four assists and even had two steals in a strong, all-around performance.

Barton, who led the Nuggets with 36 minutes on the floor, was also the only starter to play more than 30 minutes. That’s terrific news for a team awaiting the second-night of a back-to-back on Wednesday, when the Spurs come to town.

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NEXT UP: Nuggets (32-18) vs. Spurs (24-24) | Wednesday, Apr. 7 at 7:00 p.m.

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TEAM NOTES

• The Nuggets have now won 15 of their last 18 games, including going 6-0 since their trade-deadline acquisition of Aaron Gordon.

• Denver shot 59.6 percent on the night, including 45.2 percent of its three-point attempts. In the first half, the Nuggets shot a ridiculous 67.3 percent from the field on their way to an insurmountable, 76-56 halftime lead.

• Though Denver cruised to an easy victory, head coach Michael Malone wasn’t pleased with how easily the Pistons scored all game long. “We’re going to have to defend a hell of a lot better (Wednesday) night (against the Spurs),” Malone said. “Defensively, we just traded baskets all night long.” The Nuggets surrendered a 54.3 percent shooting night to the Pistons, including 15 threes.

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PLAYER NOTES

• Aaron Gordon scored only nine points on 2-for-4 shooting Wednesday, but he chipped in four rebounds, three assists, and with his usual aggressive defense. “I think it speaks to Aaron wanting to be a part of a high-level team, a team that has championship aspirations,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game. “He did not come in here trying to stand out — he came in here trying to fit in.”

• Jamal Murray sat out Tuesday’s game with a sore knee. It’s not considered a serious injury, but Murray may miss another game or two as the Nuggets will be particularly cautious.

• Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points on an efficient, 11-for-16 shooting night. That’s become par for the course, however — Porter hasn’t shot below 50 percent in his last 15 games.

• Nikola Jokic had 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in only 27 minutes on the floor. The Pistons had no answer for Jokic, who shot 13-for-16 on the night.

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THE FINAL WORD

“The offense is carrying us.” — Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, who lamented his team’s lack of defensive focus for the second straight game, and the second straight win.

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INJURY WATCH

• Jamal Murray (knee) missed the Apr. 6 game and is day-to-day.
• Greg Whittington (knee) last played on Mar. 15 and is considered week-to-week.

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ROTATION (MINUTES)

Starters:
G Monte Morris (23)
F-G Will Barton (36)
F Michael Porter Jr. (29)
F Aaron Gordon (23)
C Nikola Jokic (27)

Bench:
G-F P.J. Dozier (29)
G Facundo Campazzo (22)
F JaMychal Green (21)
F Paul Millsap (19)
F Zeke Nnaji (4)
F Vlatko Cancar (3)
G-F Gary Clark (3)
G Markus Howard (2)
F Bol Bol (DNP-CD)
C JaVale McGee (DNP-CD)

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Shawn Drotar is the host of “The Fan Late Night with Shawn Drotar;” weeknights from 10:00 p.m. to midnight — only on 104.3 The Fan. Follow him on Twitter at @sdrotar.

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