LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Golden State Warriors took a big step toward securing the top seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday night, overcoming the ejection of Kevin Durant to crush the Denver Nuggets 116-102 in Oakland, Calif.
The win gave the Warriors (53-24) a two-game lead over the Nuggets (51-26) with just five to play.
The Warriors also earned a potential tiebreaker by virtue of their third straight win over the Nuggets after an October defeat, claiming the season series 3-1.
In a marquee matchup of big men, DeMarcus Cousins outplayed Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, contributing 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocked shots, helping the Warriors to their fourth win in their last five games.
Four of the five Warriors starters recorded five or more assists, helping Golden State compile 36 on 50 baskets. The Warriors also blocked 11 shots, snatched 11 steals and outscored the Nuggets 39-21 from beyond the 3-point arc, putting themselves in position to claim the top spot in the West for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Durant had 21 points and six assists in 21 minutes before getting bang-bang technical fouls in the third quarter, earning him an ejection from the game.
Golden State didn’t skip a beat, with Stephen Curry contributing 17 points, Klay Thompson 13, Kevon Looney 10 and Draymond Green six to complement nine rebounds and nine assists. Curry, who shot 5-for-10 on 3-pointers, had five assists and three steals.
The Warriors outshot the Nuggets 54.3 percent to 37.5, overcoming 24 turnovers.
Jamal Murray had 17 points to lead Denver, which lost its second straight and fourth in its last six games. Jokic was limited to 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. He also had six turnovers.
Paul Millsap had 11 points, while Will Barton, Jarred Vanderbilt, Monte Morris and Isaiah Thomas added 10 apiece for Denver, which pulled its starters early in preparation for facing San Antonio yesterday night in the second half of a back-to-back.
With the loss, Denver saw its lead over Houston (50-28) shrink to 1 1/2 games in a three-team race for second seed in the West. Portland (49-28), which faces the Nuggets in a home-and-home sequence later this week, is also in the mix.
Millsap hit two 3-pointers, one of which became a four-point play, as Denver opened the game with a 12-5 run.
But the rest of the night belonged to Golden State, which grabbed the lead for good on a Curry 3-pointer 10 minutes into the game and went on to lead 59-43 by halftime.