DENVER | Will Barton grew up playing pick-up basketball in Baltimore until he couldn’t see because of darkness.
He brought that mentality to the NBA, and his indefatigable style has helped him break out of a slump and keep the Denver Nuggets in the playoff mix.
Barton scored a career-high 35 points, Nikola Jokic recorded his fifth triple-double of the season and the Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 129-114 on Thursday night to win their fourth straight.
Jokic finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to help lead Denver to a win in a matchup of short-handed teams.
The Clippers played without Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who were left back in Los Angeles for the one-game trip. Denver forwards Wilson Chandler (right groin) and Danilo Gallinari (left knee bone bruise) also sat, but Kenneth Faried returned after missing nine games with lower back spasms. Faried had 12 points in 18 minutes.
Without Gallinari and Chandler, Barton stepped in with his second straight strong game after an extended slump. He played 17 straight minutes in the first half and nearly 19 consecutive minutes in the second half and still hit 12 of 18 shots.
“I’m a baller,” he said. “I’m one of those guys who will play 5-on-5 in the gym all day until someone quits. That’s who I’ve been my whole life. This can go on forever if it’s up to me.”
Chris Paul had 18 points and 14 assists, J.J. Redick scored a team-high 22 points and Austin Rivers had 17 for the Clippers, who have lost three straight.
Paul criticized the Clippers’ subpar defense during their tough stretch.
“That’s on us,” he said. “We’ve got to give more effort, be better all around.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 15 in the first half and 13 at the break, but the Clippers quickly cut it to six in the third quarter.
Barton, who scored 13 points in the second quarter, ended the third with nine points in the final 56 seconds to give Denver a 103-80 lead heading into the fourth.
The advantage grew to as much as 25 and the Clippers never threatened. Barton’s seventh 3-pointer, which tied a career high, capped a 20-point half for the guard.
“The team needed me to step up and that’s all I wanted to do,” Barton said. “We know what we’re trying to get to, trying to make that push, so all I’m focused on is doing whatever I’ve got to do to win games.”
Clippers: Griffin has missed 21 games this season, 19 of which are related to his right knee. The other two are for rest.
Nuggets: Gary Harris finished with 17 points. … Coach Michael Malone doesn’t think Chandler and Gallinari will be out for the long term. “I think it’s about coming to grips with the pain and becoming confident enough to play with that,” he said.
The Clippers made the decision to leave home Griffin and Jordan before Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee, but Malone was asked before Thursday’s tip how he found out that the two big men were out.
“I called up Doc (Rivers) after the game last night and said, ‘Tough loss to Milwaukee, guys look tired and why don’t you keep them home,'” Malone joked. “One of my assistant coaches texted me after the game, and listening to the postgame comments that Doc had mentioned he was going to leave them home.”
Jordan had played in every game this season, was busy with All-Star weekend and has been flying back and forth to his home in Houston to deal with a family issue, so Rivers told the center he wasn’t going to play against Denver.
“I didn’t pose it as a question,” Rivers said. “I thought that was a better way of doing that. He’s had no rest all year, and he went through the All-Star weekend, and he enjoyed that whole weekend, if I know my DJ. He’s done more travel than us these past two weeks, which is virtually impossible.”
Clippers: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Nuggets: Host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.