The Nuggets have been playing inspired basketball since Jamal Murray fell with a season-ending ACL injury. Nikola Jokić put in another stellar performance with 29 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists in a resounding 128-99 victory over the Rockets. Jokić held it on and led the Nuggets to a 2-game winning streak. He had a triple double in the last game.
“It’s a huge positive impact,” said Michael Malone of the top MVP candidate on his team. “His fingerprints are everywhere in everything we do. Offensively, defensively, locker rooms, culture, rallies, whatever Nikola you want to talk about will be in the mix. It has that kind of impact.
Jokić is at the top of the MVP rankings according to NBA.com (and for anyone with common sense). He’s averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists this season and hasn’t missed a game. Malone says he’s a clear lock on MVP.
“For me, I’m definitely biased and I admit it, but what makes him the MVP is yes availability, he hasn’t missed a single game,” said Malone. “He’s got this squad, with a lot of new players, we’ve got guys coming in and out all season, still in the top 4 of a very deep and talented Western conference and then you talk about his stats, its efficiency.”
Malone also appreciates the fact that Jokić doesn’t take selfies and post them on social media like the rest of the league.
“I really enjoy it: guys who like to take a picture of themselves and post this,” said Malone. “Who do this? I’ve never seen Nikola take a picture of himself and post it and that’s what I love about him besides being a great player.
It’s clear Jokić’s impact on Denver night and night. It’s the glue that holds everything together and even on off nights it’s always on. In Friday night’s game in Houston, Jokić was scorching the pitch and, as usual, had incredible passes without a look.
Denver went 11-2 early in the first quarter and has never looked back. Michael Porter Jr scored 11 of his 26 points in the first 4 of 5 shot from the field and Jokić added 10. The Nuggets took a 35-28 lead.
In the second quarter, the Nuggets maintained control on both sides of the court. They shot 59% from the field and went to the free throw line 10 of their 31 times, which we haven’t seen much. Malone pleaded for more calls and on Friday night he received them. Denver has also had a lot of action off the bench, which has been an area of interest lately. Paul Millsap scored 4 straight points and PJ Dozier and JaMychael Green added a few buckets. The Nuggets’ second unit dominated the Rockets bench 14-8.
“We talked about it and it’s something we needed to focus on, especially these last two games.” Porter Jr spoke about the production of the bench. “In the third quarter, we did a good job of extending that lead, which we have struggled with this season.”
The Nuggets scored 34 points in the paint and took a 69-49 lead at halftime. Jokić finished the first half with 17 points on 7 of 8 shots from the field while Porter Jr. added 16 points on 6 of 9.
On top of that, the defense off the bench also contributed to such a big lead. Facundo Campazzo went to work on John Wall, holding him to just 10 points and forcing 7 turnovers in the first half.
“I think Facu is the team’s first defense,” said Green. “I don’t care how many minutes he plays. I really feel like he’s playing the best defense. I feel like he can lock up anyone he’s assigned to.
in the third quarter, the Nuggets bench turned a 20-point lead into a 29-point lead. Campazzo added 6 points on 2 of 3 shots from the field. Jokić continued to dominate in the starting minutes of third scoring 12 points in the quarter. Denver went on a 13-5 run.
Fourth quarter, the Nuggets dominated the Rockets 28-20. Green had 9 points in the quarter on 4 of 5 from the field and ended the night with 13 points off the bench. Dozier and Millsap both added 11.
As a team, the Nuggets had 32 second chance points against the Rockets 14 and outscored them on glass 54-35 in their resounding 128-99 victory.
Denver now has the next two days off, which for some may be a nice break, but for Porter Jr he doesn’t really like the days off.
“Honestly, I’m not really looking forward to my off days,” Porter Jr. said. “I like to do things everyday, keep moving, do something to improve myself. A few days off or a day off doesn’t really affect me too much.
The Nuggets face the Grizzlies at home Monday night before hitting the road for two straight games.