The Denver Nuggets will not have starting center Nikola Jokic in the lineup tonight against the New York Knicks, because the two-time reigning MVP entered the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols last night.
The Nuggets (9-4) initially opened as a -9 favorite against the Knicks (7-7), but the line has since dropped to -4 after the team announced Jokic is out.
The struggling Knicks recently started a five-game road trip against top teams in the Western Conference. They’re playing the Nuggets in the tail end of back-to-back games. The Knicks edged out the Utah Jazz last night in Salt Lake City.
After a disappointing start, the Knicks are glad to get out of New York City for a week. The local tabloids in the Big Apple are spreading Julius Randle trade rumors, and the 24/7 sports talk radio airwaves are filled with disgruntled fans demanding that the Knicks fire head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Deceptive Slow Start for Jokic
It’s easy to dismiss Jokic’s stats this season as a down year. Jokic averages 20.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game this season. His points and rebounding are down compared to last season, but his assists are up. With guard Jamal Murray and forward Michael Porter, Jr. back in the starting lineup, Jokic does not have carry the scoring burden for the Nuggets this season.
Murray missed last season while recovering from ACL surgery. Porter played the first two weeks before he was sidelined with a back injury and underwent season-ending surgery. Before their injuries, Murray and Porter were the second- and third-best scorers behind Jokic. Without two starters, Jokic scored a career-high 27.1 points and 13.8 rebounds per game last season, which garnered him the MVP award for a second-straight season.
Jokic is regarded as the NBA’s best-passing big man. It’s not uncommon to see the Nuggets center bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. With 8.6 assists per game, Jokic is currently ranked fourth overall in dishes.
Jokic loves to share the ball, and does not care about padding his scoring stats. It’s role that Jokic relishes, and it will also keep him fresh for the postseason.
I like to pass,” said Jokic, who was born in Serbia. “I never played American football as a kid, but now I play quarterback.”
Jokic is currently +2500 odds to win the MVP. He’s the ninth-highest player on DraftKings’s NBA Awards board. With Murray and Porter back at full health, it’s doubtful Jokic can win a third-straight MVP.
Luka Doncic from the Dallas Mavericks and Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks are the current NBA MVP co-favorites at +250 odds.
DeAndre Jordan Next Man Up
With Jokic out, the Nuggets can rely on their deep bench. Expect backup center DeAndre Jordan to start against the Knicks.
The veteran Jordan is in his 15th year in the NBA and joined the Nuggets in the offseason after an invitation from his best friend Jeff Green.
Green, a backup forward on the Nuggets, persuaded Jordan to move to Colorado to play with the Nuggets.
“I said, ‘Come be with your bestie,’ and it worked,” Green revealed in an interview with The Denver Post.
Jordan averages 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game off the bench for the Nuggets this season. Green is a 16-year veteran and the power forward averages 7.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this season. The Nuggets are the third NBA team where the duo played together, including the Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets.
DeAndre and Jeff? They’re veterans,” said head coach Michael Malone. “They get on the younger guys, they hold guys accountable.”
“DeAndre is a gentle giant, very soft,” added Green. “Tries to have a hard exterior, but he’s very soft.”
Nuggets Staving Off a COVID Breakout?
The Nuggets recently finished a four-game road trip and went 3-1. They had a four-game winning streak snapped last Friday against the Boston Celtics during a 19-point loss.
Backup point guard Bones Hyland tested positive for COVID last Friday a couple hours before the tip off of the Nuggets and Celtics. Hyland missed Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
The Nuggets listed Hyland as out on Wednesday’s injury report, but he’s since been upgraded to doubtful. There’s a chance Hyland can clear health and safety protocols on Wednesday morning, otherwise he will miss a third-straight game.
Hyland anchors the Nuggets’ second unit that also includes veterans Bruce Brown, Green, and Jordan. In his second-season with the Nuggets, the energetic Hyland averages 14 points and 3.7 assists per game as the sixth man.
If Hyland does not play against the Knicks, expect rookie guard Christian Braun to get extra minutes. The Nuggets selected Braun from Kansas with the #21 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Braun, much like Hyland, has become a fan favorite at Ball Arena in Denver. The rookie averages 3.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game in limited action, but he’s shooting 37.5% from 3-point range.
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