Nikola Jokic is averaging 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game in his last six contests. Is Joker officially back?
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): I don’t think he ever really left in the first place but he is definitely back to the standard we all hold him to. He not only is playing better (which is resulting in a healthy offense) but he looks like he’s in the best shape of his life.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): There was definitely a period in November when Nikola Jokic wasn’t bringing his best stuff. Whether it was focus, conservation of energy, or a simple slump, it happened. The difference this year was that Jokic admitted it and did something about it. He has been lifting weights post game, and it has had a clear effect on his energy level the last two weeks. I think it’s safe to say that Jokic is back, and he may be better than ever.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Jokic, over the past six games, has found the need to take on a bigger role. Whether that was a result of the team skidding or other guys getting hurt or going cold from the floor. He has shown that he’s back. He is putting in his full effort, and I think the rest of the team is going to start to feed off of that by pulling in the same direction rather than a bunch of small directions, as we have seen at times this season.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Jokic’s talent never left. His determination to Make Things Happen returned. He looks fit and quick (in a unique Jokic way) and is imposing his will on a basketball court. Like swallows returning to Capistrano, Jokic returning to form in December is an annual tradition that Nuggets fans look forward to. Wish granted.
A 3-0 home stand continues with games against the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Nuggets make it a clean sweep?
Fiala: Easily, and I think they will make a sweep of it.
Blackburn: Like Evan, I believe they will sweep this home stand. Not because they are doing anything differently, but that Jokic is reengaged and clearly focused. The team adopts the tendencies of their best player, and the better Jokic plays, the more confidence players around him will have. That will translate to a 5-0 stretch.
Bridgford: I don’t think it should be too tough. Their defense is monstrous, and the Magic are without their best player in Nikola Vucevic, along with having a bad offense. Minnesota has also cooled off considerably after a strong start to the year.
Gross: The Timberwolves can score, that’s for sure. Denver will need to maintain its offensive efficiency and not brick a bunch of threes, and they’ll need to handle the Magic’s bigs (minus Vucevic, which makes things easier). I think they do both things and sweep the home stand.
After 25 games, the Nuggets are 17-8 and sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference. Independent of all context, rate Denver’s performance this season from 1 to 10:
Fiala: 7. Compared to the sort of grandiose dreams a lot of us had this offseason (myself included) that Denver would bulldoze through everyone like the Lakers are doing, then yes the Nuggets are underperforming. But they have also found ways to win and improve defensively and deserve more credit than a lot of folks are giving.
Blackburn: I will go with a 6. If 5 is average and 10 is fully exceeding expectations, the Nuggets are just on the other side of average. A 17-8 start correlates to around 56 wins when extrapolating over a full season. I had them pegged for 58, so while they are exceeding last year by a hair, it’s not quite where they COULD be.
Bridgford: I’m going with Ryan and a 6 here. I had higher expectations for them this year, and I think the team did as well. This team just needs to start clicking on offense in order for this number to go up, but, until that happens, slightly above average is where I have them thus far.
Gross: 7. The wins were exceeding the performances before the road trip regressed their record to the mean. It might be a matter of expectations - Denver was expected to have it together since they were returning so many starters, and players who’d logged big minutes. Turns out they go as Jokic goes, and it took Jokic a bit to keep going. Averaging 55+ wins is not a failure, though, it’s just not the brilliant start many Nuggets fans wanted to see. At least they’re already strapped in for the brilliance still to come.