DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic was bloodied early, upset late, and ultimately boiled over at a critical time for the Denver Nuggets.
It wasn’t what the cold-shooting Nuggets needed in the heat of a playoff race.
Jokic shook off a bloody nose in the first quarter but his temper at a non-call got him ejected late in the fourth. It was the final blow for Denver in a 95-90 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.
Jokic finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds but was in the locker room for the final 3:36, when the Wizards pulled away, leaving the Nuggets struggling down the stretch.
“Can’t get tossed,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I don’t care what they do to him, how bad the refereeing is, foul call, no foul call, it doesn’t matter. He’s too valuable to this team.”
Tony Brown Jr. scored 24 points, Thomas Bryant and Jabari Parker each had 20 for the Wizards. Washington held Denver to just 28 points in the second half to finish 2-2 on its road trip.
“It’s great to see Troy have a great game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Troy has been a good pro, he’s had some good guys around him that have helped along the way. It’s nice to see him step up against a team that’s playing for playoff positioning.”
Denver lost for the third time in five games and saw its lead in the Northwest Division over Portland cut to three games. The Nuggets lead Houston by 2½ games in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
The loss came at price for Denver. Starting point guard Jamal Murray left the game in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return. Murray, who missed six games from Jan. 26-Feb. 4 with a left ankle sprain, walked out of the Pepsi Center on his own without addressing the media.
Without Murray and Jokic in the final minutes, the Wizards closed the game on a 7-2 run.
Jokic made 11 of 15 shots and his last make was on a layup with 3:36 left to tie it at 88. He said he was fouled by Bryant and immediately argued with official James Capers. Capers hit him with two quick technical. Bradley Beal made the two free throws and Bryant scored on a layup to put the Wizards up four.
“I was fouled. They’re going to see it in the (Last Two-Minute Report), they’re going to see that it was a foul,” Jokic said. “I said, ’James he slapped me two hands in the head. I don’t know, I swear or something, but he gave me a technical. Then I said something back. He said, ‘Do you want another one,’ I said, ‘I don’t care’ and he gave me another one.”
It was a rough night all around for Jokic. He scored the first 10 points of the game for Denver and was 7-of-8 shooting when Bobby Portis hit him in the nose with his left hand while going up for a layup. Jokic left the game with a bloody nose and didn’t return until midway through the second quarter.
Later, Portis wrapped him up on a post-up and rode Jokic’s back as the center tried to push him off.
“I think our physicality got under his skin a little bit,” Portis said. “I think the ref did a great job of us letting us play and being physical with each other.”
Jokic said he didn’t have a problem with Portis wrapping him up, calling it just a hard foul, but he said other fouls could have been called.
“Sometimes it’s really hard,” he said. “The ball is in my hands a lot, there’s a lot of contact there. I’m not going to get every call but the obvious ones at least.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 12 points and were up 72-62 after a 3-pointer by Will Barton with 5:52 left in the third. But Washington scored 13 straight points to take a 75-72 lead. Denver scored just 10 points in the third and missed its last seven shots of the period.
Two 3-pointers gave Denver a lead, but a steal and layup by Tomas Satoransky and a 3-pointer by Brown put the Wizards ahead 86-82 with 6:08 remaining.
Wizards: F Trevor Ariza missed his third straight game with a left groin strain suffered at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. ... The Wizards play three of their last four games at home.
Nuggets: G Isaiah Thomas didn’t get off the bench for the seventh straight game and 10th time in the last 11 games. Thomas made his season debut just before the All-Star break but a deep backcourt has kept him out of the rotation. ... Jokic now has 53 double-doubles this season to go with 12 triple-doubles.
Denver shot 53.2 percent in the first half, but was just 10 of 47 from the field in the second half. The Nuggets had 10 points in the third quarter, a season-low for a period, and the 28 points in the second half were also a low for the season.
“It was just a bad half in general. A lot going on,” guard Malik Beasley said. “We couldn’t get anything to fall and had a few bad calls here and there. It happens, we just have to fight through it.”
Wizards: Hosts Chicago on Wednesday night.
Nuggets: Play at Golden State on Tuesday in a matchup of the top teams in the Western Conference.