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Nuggets hold off Warriors, Kings spoil Westbrook debut

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Sacramento’s Willie Cauley-Stein defends a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook in an NBA victory for the Kings © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / J Pat Carter

LOS ANGELES, United States, Oct 22Juancho Hernangomez came up with the game-saving block Sunday as the Denver Nuggets held off the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors 100-98 in a thriller in Denver.

The unbeaten Nuggets handed the Warriors their first defeat of the young season, staking their claim to contender status in Western Conference.

The Warriors weren’t the only Western power laid low on Sunday as the Los Angeles Clippers held on for a 115-112 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Less than a week into the season, the Nuggets top the West with a perfect 3-0 record.

Denver led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors, led by 30 points from Stephen Curry, whittled the deficit, knotting the score at 97-97 with 1:29 remaining.

Three missed free throws by the Nuggets in the final 1:18 opened the door for the Warriors, but the visitors couldn’t take advantage.

Draymond Green had a chance to tie the game when he missed one of two free throws with 10 seconds remaining and the Warriors trailed by two on their final possession.

Curry drove to the rim, drawing two defenders, and passed to Damian Jones.

As Jones rose for the shot, Hernangomez dived in to bat the ball away from behind.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team is not yet firing on all cylinders

“We’re not where we need to be,” said Kerr, whose Warriors led by as many as 12 in the first quarter, and by two at halftime, but were out-scored 33-21 in the third period.

Kerr was pleased with the Warriors’ “competitive juice and spirit” but said their late push was doomed by sloppy play.

“We can’t expect to win every game on emotion,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to win on execution and intelligence. We’ll get there.”

A day after his impressive triple-double against Phoenix, Nikola Jokic scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and six assists for Denver.

Gary Harris added 28 points and the Nuggets forced 18 turnovers in a solid defensive effort against the prolific Warriors.

“We fought through,” Harris said. “We stuck through to the end, we played til the last buzzer.”

– Thunder lose on Westbrook’s return –

Russell Westbrook showed little sign of rust in his NBA season debut but his 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists weren’t enough to lift Oklahoma City to a first win of the young campaign.

Former NBA Most Valuable Player Westbrook had missed the first two games of the season as he continued his return from arthroscopic knee surgery on September 12.

He started in his customary spot and played 35 minutes — the most of any Thunder starter — but it was the Sacramento Kings who came up with their first win of the season 131-120 in Oklahoma City.

Iman Shumpert scored 26 points for the Kings, one of seven Sacramento players to score in double figures.

That included an impressive double-double of 22 points and 10 assists from De’Aaron Fox.

Even after missing all of training camp and the pre-season, Westbrook immediately raised the Thunder’s intensity level.

He scored his first points on a driving layup assisted by Paul George less than two minutes into the contest.

He and George combined for 61 points, but the Thunder defense, rated 10th in the league last season, was again too inconsistent.

Elsewhere, the Cleveland Cavaliers remained without a victory since the departure of superstar LeBron James, who landed with the Los Angeles Lakers via free agency after last season.

The Cavs, who have played in the last four NBA finals and won the title in 2016 with James leading the way, dropped their home opener to the Atlanta Hawks 113-111, falling to 0-3.

In a game billed as a showdown between rookie point guards Trae Young and Collin Sexton, Atlanta’s Young exploded for 35 points and 11 assists, with six three-pointers.

Young, drafted fifth overall, became the third rookie since 2000, after James and Golden State star Curry, to surpass 35 points and 10 assists in an NBA game.

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