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Denver back on top as Porter shines in Miami win

Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points as reigning NBA champions the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 100-88 on Wednesday to reclaim top spot in the Western Conference standings.

A low-scoring clash between last year’s NBA Finals rivals saw Denver lead for most of the first half before the Heat edge ahead with a third-quarter rally, only for the Nuggets to regain their advantage.

Denver pulled clear in the fourth quarter, with Reggie Jackson draining a 26-foot step back three with just over three minutes remaining to put the Nuggets 10 points up at 94-84.

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was restricted to just 12 points after a disciplined Miami defensive effort, but that just allowed more space for Porter Jr., who drained five three-pointers in a 9-of-16 shooting display.

Porter Jr. said his impressive performance owed everything to his teammates engineering time and space for him to shoot freely.

“Did you see the shots I was getting? They were wide open threes, so it’s really my teammates, all credit to them,” Porter Jr. told ESPN. 

“We’ve got a good, well-balanced team so when you take something away, there’s another option. That’s what it was tonight.”

Denver’s fourth straight victory saw them improve to 46-20, leaving them half a game clear of Oklahoma City at the top of the Western Conference. 

It’s the first time Denver have led the standings since November, suggesting Michael Malone’s men are hitting form at the right time as they chase the top seeding for the playoffs.

“It feels good,” Porter Jr. said of reclaiming top spot. “It feels like we’re back where we belong. We wanted the No.1 seed and we’ve been playing well since the All-Star break. 

“But we’ve got to hold on to it though, there’s a lot of good teams in the West, so we’ve got to come into every game knowing that people are coming for our spot.”

Porter Jr. received scoring support from Aaron Gordon with 16 points and Jamal Murray with 14.

Bam Adebayo led Miami’s scorers with 17 points. The Heat’s fourth consecutive defeat leaves them eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 35-30 record.

In other games, the Orlando Magic kept their push for a playoff berth on track with a 114-106 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Paolo Banchero led Orlando with 21 points on a night when seven Magic players finished in double figures. Cam Thomas topped the scoring for Brooklyn with 21 points.

Cleveland leapfrogged Milwaukee into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 116-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, who went into the game on the back of a four-game win streak.

Darius Garland led the Cavs scoring with 27 points, with Jarrett Allen adding 17 and Georges Niang 16.

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