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Jokic stars on "Serbian Heritage Night," Nuggets pound Bulls

CHICAGO (AP) It started when Nikola Jokic was introduced with Denver's starting lineup, and the cheering continued throughout the night. There were chants of ''Serbia! Serbia!''

Jokic felt right at home in Chicago.

The 7-foot center had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists on ''Serbian Heritage Night,'' leading the Nuggets to a runaway 135-102 victory over the Bulls on Wednesday.

''The ovations, the fans, the people from Serbia did bring the flags,'' Jokic said, ''I mean when Serbia is playing this is the atmosphere. Just imagine the whole arena is doing that. The whole Serbian population, people, love basketball.''

Denver shot 61.4 percent (51 for 83) from the field and had seven players score in double figures. Paul Millsap had 22 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, and Wilson Chandler made five of the Nuggets' 20 3-pointers on his way to 19 points.

The Nuggets (39-33) led by as many as 46 while improving to 1-2 on a seven-game trip. They also pulled within 1 1/2 games of idle Utah for eighth in the Western Conference playoff race.

''Anytime on the road you're able to build a 40-point lead, your guys are playing at a high level,'' Denver coach Michael Malone said.

Jokic went 9 for 11 from the field and made each of his two 3-point tries. He called the warm reception ''really, really cool,'' and his teammates also got a kick out of the Serbian contingent in the crowd of 20,671.

''It was a home game for him,'' a grinning Millsap said. ''Definitely a home game for him. I see why he was feeling it out there.''

Cristiano Felicio scored 16 points for the Bulls (24-47), who have dropped four of five. Bobby Portis had 15 points and eight rebounds, and Noah Vonleh finished with 14 points.

''We are not coming out with any type of edge whatsoever, and we're allowing teams to gain confidence in games, and it just goes downhill from there,'' coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Chicago played without Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine due to injuries, and veteran center Robin Lopez did not dress. Dunn has a right toe sprain, Markkanen has been bothered by lower back spasms and LaVine is out with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee.

LaVine (16.7 points per game), Markkanen (14.9) and Dunn (13.4) are the Bulls' top three scorers after Nikola Mirotic was traded to New Orleans last month.

''When you lose, it hurts until midnight,'' Portis said. ''Then, when midnight comes, you worry about the next game.''

The Nuggets opened a 33-23 lead on Jokic's layup with 1:15 left in the first quarter and maintained a double-digit advantage for the rest of the game. Once a fast shooting start for the Bulls wore off, it was never in doubt.

The lead ballooned to 20 for the first time on Chandler's layup with 5:52 left in the first half. It got up to 30 when Jokic and Will Barton hit consecutive 3-pointers, making it 74-44 with 58.2 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Jokic then made a slick pass to set up Jamal Murray's three-point play, helping Denver to a 77-46 halftime lead. The Nuggets shot 68.3 percent (28 for 41) from the field in their highest-scoring first half of the season.

PLAYING IT COY

The playoff race doesn't mean very much for lowly Chicago as the season winds down. It's the results for the teams at the bottom of the standings that affect the Bulls in terms of positioning for their pick in the draft lottery.

Asked if he was scoreboard watching for the bottom of the NBA, a chuckling Hoiberg responded: ''I look at the scores. I follow the box scores very closely, as all coaches do at this time of year.''

TIP-INS

Nuggets: G Gary Harris (strained right knee) missed his third consecutive game. Malone called a Monday return at Philadelphia a ''best-case scenario.'' ... Barton and Murray each had 16 points. Reserve Devin Harris scored 14, and Trey Lyles had 10. ... The Nuggets swept the season series for the second straight year.

Bulls: G Antonio Blakeney had six points on 3-for-10 shooting after he was listed as questionable due to a left wrist sprain. ... The Bulls made their first four 3-point attempts and finished 13 for 38 from beyond the arc. They went 3 for 30 from long range during Monday night's 110-92 loss to the New York Knicks.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Visit Washington on Friday night. Denver lost 109-104 to the Wizards on Oct. 23.

Bulls: Host Milwaukee on Friday night in the finale of their season series. The Bulls won two of the previous three matchups, but lost 110-96 in their last meeting on Jan. 28.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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For more NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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Key Players
N. Jokic
15 C
B. Portis
5 PF
22.3 Min. Per Game 22.3
13.3 Pts. Per Game 13.3
1.8 Ast. Per Game 1.8
6.7 Reb. Per Game 6.7
50.1 Field Goal % 46.9
49.8 Three Point % 46.8
84.7 Free Throw % 78.8
  Personal foul on David Nwaba 0:13
  Defensive rebound by Trey Lyles 0:13
  Cristiano Felicio missed jump shot, blocked by Darrell Arthur 0:20
+ 3 Darrell Arthur made 3-pt. jump shot, assist by Richard Jefferson 0:34
  Defensive rebound by Trey Lyles 0:44
  Cameron Payne missed 3-pt. jump shot 0:46
  24-second shot clock violation turnover 1:02
  Offensive rebound by Trey Lyles 1:02
  Torrey Craig missed jump shot 1:06
+ 2 David Nwaba made dunk, assist by Cristiano Felicio 1:26
  Lost ball turnover on Malik Beasley, stolen by Cameron Payne 1:28
Team Stats
Points 135 102
Field Goals 51-83 (61.4%) 39-89 (43.8%)
3-Pointers 20-35 (57.1%) 13-38 (34.2%)
Free Throws 13-16 (81.3%) 11-14 (78.6%)
Total Rebounds 48 40
Offensive 8 9
Defensive 37 25
Team 3 6
Assists 34 29
Steals 9 12
Blocks 6 4
Turnovers 17 15
Fouls 13 22
Technicals 0 0
22 PTS, 8 REB, 3 AST
14 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST
1234T
away team logo Nuggets 39-33 39383622135
home team logo Bulls 24-47 25212432102
Team Stats
away team logo Nuggets 39-33 PPG RPG APG
home team logo Bulls 24-47 PPG RPG APG
Key Players
P. Millsap PF 14.6 PPG 6.4 RPG 2.8 APG 46.4 FG%
C. Felicio C 5.6 PPG 4.2 RPG 1.0 APG 59.1 FG%
Top Scorers
P. Millsap PF 22 PTS 8 REB 3 AST
C. Felicio C 16 PTS 5 REB 1 AST
61.4 FG% 43.8
57.1 3PT FG% 34.2
81.3 FT% 78.6
Starters MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
P. Millsap 26 22 8 3 5 1 3 2 8/9 1/1 5/6 1 7 39 +34
N. Jokic 23 21 7 5 0 0 1 1 9/11 2/2 1/1 2 5 37 +18
W. Chandler 29 19 5 3 0 1 3 1 6/9 5/7 2/2 1 4 28 +37
W. Barton 25 16 3 5 0 1 1 1 7/9 2/3 0/0 0 3 29 +29
J. Murray 29 16 5 7 2 1 3 1 5/14 3/6 3/3 1 4 35 +26
Starters MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
P. Millsap 26 22 8 3 5 1 3 2 8/9 1/1 5/6 1 7 39 +34
N. Jokic 23 21 7 5 0 0 1 1 9/11 2/2 1/1 2 5 37 +18
W. Chandler 29 19 5 3 0 1 3 1 6/9 5/7 2/2 1 4 28 +37
W. Barton 25 16 3 5 0 1 1 1 7/9 2/3 0/0 0 3 29 +29
J. Murray 29 16 5 7 2 1 3 1 5/14 3/6 3/3 1 4 35 +26
Bench MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
D. Harris 24 14 3 5 1 1 3 1 5/8 3/6 1/1 1 2 26 +26
T. Lyles 18 10 6 1 0 0 0 2 4/10 2/5 0/0 1 5 18 -5
T. Craig 18 7 4 1 0 0 1 1 3/6 0/1 1/2 1 3 12 -4
M. Plumlee 19 4 3 1 1 0 1 1 2/2 0/0 0/1 0 3 9 +22
D. Arthur 7 3 0 0 0 1 0 2 1/2 1/2 0/0 0 0 4 -3
M. Beasley 12 3 0 1 0 0 1 0 1/3 1/2 0/0 0 0 4 -10
R. Jefferson 4 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0 1 5 -5
K. Faried - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
G. Harris - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
T. Lydon - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
J. Hernangomez - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
M. Morris - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Total 234 135 45 34 9 6 17 13 51/83 20/35 13/16 8 37 246 +165
Starters MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
C. Felicio 28 16 5 1 1 0 2 1 7/9 0/0 2/2 2 3 22 -23
C. Payne 23 11 1 6 2 1 2 3 4/7 3/4 0/0 0 1 25 -16
D. Valentine 24 10 2 3 5 0 2 1 4/13 2/8 0/2 1 1 21 -26
P. Zipser 17 6 1 2 0 0 1 3 2/9 2/7 0/0 0 1 10 -13
J. Holiday 22 3 2 1 0 0 2 1 1/5 1/4 0/0 0 2 5 -24
Starters MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
C. Felicio 28 16 5 1 1 0 2 1 7/9 0/0 2/2 2 3 22 -23
C. Payne 23 11 1 6 2 1 2 3 4/7 3/4 0/0 0 1 25 -16
D. Valentine 24 10 2 3 5 0 2 1 4/13 2/8 0/2 1 1 21 -26
P. Zipser 17 6 1 2 0 0 1 3 2/9 2/7 0/0 0 1 10 -13
J. Holiday 22 3 2 1 0 0 2 1 1/5 1/4 0/0 0 2 5 -24
Bench MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK TO PF FG 3PT FT OREB DREB FPTS +/-
B. Portis 26 15 8 2 0 0 2 3 5/11 1/4 4/4 2 6 25 -25
N. Vonleh 23 14 8 1 1 2 1 1 5/8 4/6 0/0 1 7 26 -5
D. Nwaba 25 11 4 3 2 1 0 5 5/10 0/2 1/2 2 2 24 -12
J. Grant 24 10 0 7 1 0 2 2 3/7 0/2 4/4 0 0 23 -17
A. Blakeney 23 6 3 3 0 0 1 2 3/10 0/1 0/0 1 2 14 -4
O. Asik - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
R. Lopez - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
K. Dunn - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Z. LaVine - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
J. Eddie - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
R. Arcidiacono - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
L. Markkanen - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Total 235 102 34 29 12 4 15 22 39/89 13/38 11/14 9 25 195 -165