Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets Have Earned Our Respect
NIKOLA JOKIC AND THE DENVER NUGGETS HAVE EARNED OUR RESPECT – The Denver Nuggets finished the regular season with the best record in a competitive, rugged Western Conference. This marked the fifth straight season in which they qualified for the playoffs. Despite their regular season success, though, many did not view this team as a legitimate championship-caliber club.
After all, aside from the conference finals appearance in the playoff bubble three seasons ago, this team has not had a ton of postseason success. Furthermore, they do not have the same level of star power as the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
With that sentiment in mind, this team entered the postseason with a chip on its shoulder.
Nuggets Make Quick Work of Upstart Timberwolves & Eclipse Suns in Six Games
Facing an inexperienced Minnesota Timberwolves team in the first round, Denver advanced with relative ease, knocking them off in five games.
The Nuggets’ second-round opponent would be the Phoenix Suns – a team that was considered one of the odds-on-favorites to win it all after they acquired Kevin Durant via a midseason trade with the Brooklyn Nets.
Through the first five games of this series, the home team came away with the victory, which meant that the Suns needed a win in Game 6 to extend their season. The Nuggets played with a sense of urgency and physicality from the opening tip. They scored 44 points in the first quarter and led 81-51 going into the break.
Given the margin of such a huge lead, the rest of the game was a mere formality. When it was all said and done, the road team came away with an impressive 125-100 win. Denver is now 8-3 in the postseason and they will face the same Los Angles Lakers team that defeated them in the Western Conference Finals three years ago.
But before we talk about that matchup, though, here is a glimpse of what the Nuggets have been doing so far. Denver is ranked fifth in scoring (115.8 points per contest) and they boast the best point-differential in the playoffs (plus-9.1)
Defensively, the Nuggets are ranked fifth in scoring defense (106.6 points per outing) while limiting opponents to just 10 three-point fields per game and they are sixth in opponent 3-point accuracy (33.9 percent).
Perhaps Nikola Jokic Should Have Won MVP
Another storyline that warrants discussion is the play of Nikola Jokic. He was voted the league’s MVP in each of the last two seasons, and he appeared to be on pace to become just the second player to win the award three straight years.
However, Joel Embiid won the award following a season in which he averaged 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per contest. Jokic finished the season with 24.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 9.8 assists per contest. While Embiid scored nine more points per game, Jokic averaged close to a triple-double for an entire season.
And if you thought his regular season numbers were a fluke, think again. In the five-game set against the Timberwolves, Jokic averaged 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists per contest. I know what you probably think: “Those numbers came against an inferior opponent, ” right?
Well, let’s take a look at what he did against the Suns. There was only one outing in which he did not eclipse the 30-point threshold. And before I get to his stats, it is worth noting that he dropped 53 points to go along with 11 boards in Game 4, albeit in a losing effort.
For the series, Jokic put up averages of 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 10.3 assists per contest. That’s right, folks. Not only are these numbers better than his production from the regular season, but the man also averaged a triple-double in a six-game playoff series against a team that was expected to win it all.
The Lakers Defense
It has been well-documented that the Lakers were the best defensive team in the NBA during the latter part of the season. And they are a confident group after eliminating the defending champs in six games.
Sure, Los Angeles defeated Denver in five games when these teams clashed in the conference finals round three seasons ago. However, just as the Lakers have undergone a transformation, the same narrative can be applied to the Nuggets as well.
This team is getting it done at both ends of the court and it has six players who are averaging in double figures, which means that any player on the roster can step up when his number is called.
With that being said, this series promises to be much more competitive this time around.