DENVER (AP) — Three shots in, Wilson Chandler knew it was going to be that kind of night.
His jumper felt so smooth.
Chandler scored a career-best 36 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, helping the Denver Nuggets weather the absence of Nikola Jokic to beat the Sacramento Kings 108-96 on Monday.
"He was phenomenal," said Michael Malone, who improved to 1-5 against his former team as coach of the Nuggets. "I wasn't aware it was a career high, but I knew he had a special night. Hopefully, he can keep that going for us."
Chandler got off to a torrid start, scoring 16 points in the first quarter. He was stuck on 33 points for quite a while, but eclipsed his best outing on a 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining. His previous high was 35 on three occasions, most recently at Chicago on March 18, 2013.
The Nuggets snapped a five-game skid against Sacramento. More important, they remained entrenched in the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
Jokic was a late scratch because of an illness. With him went 15.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Mason Plumlee stepped in and posted Jokic-like numbers — 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
"I thought guys stepped up. I thought Wilson played great," Plumlee said. "He kept us going from the jump and then I thought our defense was good, too."
Darren Collison led seven Kings players in doubles figures with 17 points as they dropped their fifth straight. The team was coming off a tough loss the night before when Utah's Rudy Gobert tipped in a missed jumper as time expired in overtime on a play that was initially ruled goaltending.
"It was tough, coming off a back-to-back is always tough to find your pace and rhythm," Collison said. "Still, no excuses.
"I don't think fatigue had a lot to do with it. We have to find a way to be mentally tougher."
The Nuggets led by 21 points on Jamal Murray's jumper with 9:41 remaining before going cold. The Kings pulled within nine on a dunk by Skal Labissiere with 1:25 left, but couldn't get any closer as the Nuggets played with a must-win attitude.
"Really, that's how it's going to be the rest of the season," Plumlee said. "We've got to win every night. Every night."
Kings: Sacramento falls to 4-10 on the second night of a back-to-back this season. ...The Kings had three former Nuggets on the floor: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Kosta Koufos, who combined for 29 points. Koufos also had 10 rebounds. ... Willie Cauley-Stein fouled out with 3:06 remaining. He scored 10 points.
Nuggets: The spasms in F Kenneth Faried's back have "greatly reduced," Malone said. "He's still in no shape to play. Getting closer, but where that puts him and how many games out that puts him, I'm not sure." ... Denver finished with 28 assists. ... F Danilo Gallinari was 5 of 7 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line on his way to 18 points.
Before the game, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger described Jokic as a lot like Marc Gasol, the versatile center he coached in Memphis. Joerger quickly added that if Jokic isn't "feeling good and doesn't play, that does not hurt my feelings."
The sentiment is understandable: Jokic has four triple-doubles in his last 14 games.
JUST ANOTHER GAME
Malone tried to maintain that playing Sacramento was simply another game on the schedule. He spent two seasons as coach of the Kings before being dismissed.
He jokingly said he no longer allows his family to wear purple, even if it's his wife's favorite color.
"I have 15 purple ties that will never be worn again," Malone said. "They have to understand that in the coaching business, if I'm in this long enough, at some point, we're just going to be wearing black."
Kings: Finish off a two-game trip Wednesday in San Antonio.
Nuggets: Host John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.