The Denver Nuggets are starting to look and play like a team fighting for a playoff spot. As it stands right now, they are sitting at the 8th seed, and are six and a half games behind the 7th seeded Thunder and looking to catch the rest of the Western Conference. Like a train barreling down the tracks, the Nuggets are starting to pick up steam and playing like a contender. Even though it’s a team game there is one player that acts as the fuel to keep this locomotive running: Nikola Jokic.
If you have not heard of Jokic, he is the 21-year old Serbian, who stands 6’10 and has burst onto the scene as of late. This season he has averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, and 8.4 rebounds a game, in his second year in the NBA. Since the start of 2017, Jokic has averaged a double-double, with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per contest. He even recorded his first career triple-double (20 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) in a win against Milwaukee on Feb. 3. After missing a few starts with a minor hip strain, Jokic has returned to form and his play has sparked the rest of the team to perform at a higher level.
One aspect of Jokic’s game that has become one of his strengths is his court vision and ability to pass the ball. While averaging 43.3 passes a game, Jokic has gained his coaches praise and attention. “When you pass the ball there is always going to be someone open.” Coach Mike Malone told reporters, while also adding, “He (Jokic), knows when guys are going to be open before they even do.” Being able to play all over the court, whether it be in the high post or low post, his 6’10 wingspan creates different angles to pass the ball and pick apart the defense to set up better scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Not only has he gained the attention of his coaches, but also his teammates have taken notice as well in the young Serbians abilities. When asked about Jokic and his unselfish play back in January, Kenneth Faried gave nothing but praise. “He doesn’t care who is scoring the points as long as were winning.” He added, “That’s a great player to play with.” Faired has been a beneficiary from Jokic’s play due to more teams doubling up on defense against him. When that happens it means there is an open man somewhere and Faried is usually the open look and Jokic sees that almost every time.
Playing at an All-Star caliber level all eyes of late have been on Jokic. As the 21-year old adjusts to his sudden stardom, he still has his team first mentality about him that resonates throughout the locker room. When asked if he likes to score or pass, Jokic responded “Passing makes two people happy. Scoring only makes one person happy.” Putting his team first and worrying about his stats second may be the key to push this locomotive train that is the Nuggets, into the station that is the NBA playoffs.
Nuggets Notes and Updates:
Jokic Conquers the Garden:
This past Friday the Nuggets traveled to New York and took on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They came away with a 131-123 victory as Nikola Jokic sparked the offense and dropped 40 points on a less than stellar Knicks squad. He became just the fourth player under the age of 22 to score 40 or more points at Madison Square Garden, putting him among some elite company. The other three players to accomplish this feat: Kyrie Irving (2012), Michael Jordan (1985), and Rick Barry (1965)
Defense Falls Flat against the Cavs:
The Nuggets then traveled to Cleveland to play the second half of a back-to-back against the Cavs. They fell flat and couldn’t contain the high octane offense and surrendered 120 points for the second game in a row, losing 125-109. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined for 54 points and 17 assists. This has been a reoccurring theme for Denver, as they haven’t been able to execute their offense efficiency in their second games of back-to-back series.
Nuggets shut down Golden State:
Denver returned to the Pepsi Center on Monday and hosted the Golden State Warriors and came away with a 132-110 victory. Jokic recorded another triple double dropping 17 points, 21 boards, and 12 assists. They also tied the record for made 3 pointers in a game with 24. Juan Hernangomez also added 27 points and 10 rebounds recording his first career double double.
Nuggets Swap Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee:
On Sunday The Nuggets kicked off the trade deadline frenzy by dealing backup center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland in exchange for fellow big man Mason Plumlee. Denver also sent a first round pick to the Trailblazers and received a second round pick in return. This minor deal gives the Nuggets someone they have been coveting for a while in Plumlee, and giving Nurkic a fresh start as he has been blocked by the play of Jokic. Plumlee will fill that backup role and will allow Kenneth Faried to play more of the power forward position he is comfortable with.
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