The Denver Nuggets entered the season as a strong favorite out of Western Conference teams to reach the NBA Finals — falling a series short of the Finals last season.
Sporting one of the Association’s most apt starting lineups, the Nuggets and coach Mike Malone were ready for a fast start — relying on the efforts from Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter, Jr. and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. Guard Jamal Murray remains sidelined, recovering from an ACL injury.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic dribbles aduring the first half of the team’s preseason NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) ((AP Photo/Jeff Chiu))
Rather than appearing as the cohesive group that many expected out the gate, the Nuggets are off to a meager 4-4 start.
The slow start has been most discouraging for Jokic, whose output every game appears as a continuation of his MVP campaign, but is also wearing down the Denver superstar.
Coach Malone spoke on Jokic’s demanding six-game stretch, made worse by consecutive losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and disfunction once Jokic is off the court, per The Denver Post.
“I told our guys just now, Nikola’s not a good player, (he’s) a great player,” Malone commented. “But every time he comes out, everything just falls apart. It’s every night. I went to him in the fourth quarter, I called his name, and he looked at me, kind of like, ‘Already?’ And I feel for him. … Nikola’s gonna be worn down by Christmas at this rate.”
Oct 13, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is guarded by Oklahoma City Thunder center Isaiah Roby (22) on a drive to the basket during the first quarter at Paycom Center. (Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports)
Gordon and Porter, Jr. signed pricey extensions with the team in the offseason. Porter has needed some time to get warmed up this season, averaging only 10.9 points, shooting 21.7 percent from the 3-point line and totaling 2.1 assists per game. Not ideal for a max player. Meanwhile, Gordon is averaging 12.6 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Jokic finished the night with an impressive stat line: recording 34 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals. The Nuggets still lost, 108-106, to the Grizzlies.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) argues for a call with referee Rodney Mott (71) in the first half of Game 4 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
“They look to me as a leader. I need to be much better,” Jokic said, following the loss. “It’s not them to blame. It’s me, then everybody else. It’s not one guy. You cannot say bench. You cannot say starters. You cannot say coach. It’s all collectively. It’s me first then the rest of the group.”
The Serbian is averaging 25.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists this season.