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NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets sit pretty after a perfect week

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Jokic and Murray have the Nuggets in a good spot after going 3-0

DENVER NUGGETS VS PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS, NBA REGULAR SEASON Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

What a week. What a freaking week for the Denver Nuggets. Denver punched Portland in the mouth in what ended up being an emotional farewell to Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. The next night they shocked the Utah Jazz in an improbable win with just seven players. Finally, on Saturday Denver completed its season sweep of the Phoenix Suns.

Both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had outstanding, outstanding weeks. Jokic deservedly picked up Western Conference Player of the Week honors for his 27.3/14.3/8.3 averages. He could not be guarded. Murray, fresh from a 10 game absence for an ankle injury, has played the best basketball of his life. If he keeps this up, watch out.

Denver didn’t go all-in on anyone in the trade deadline except for their current core. And that’s enough. This team is locked in and ready to roll into the All-Star break.

Let’s see what the media is saying this week:

ESPN

Nuggets Rank: 4
Last week: 5

Isn’t it about time to start the “Should Nikola Jokic be in the MVP race?” conversation? Though the Nuggets have been hampered by injuries in the past month, they are second in the Western Conference. And in 2020, Jokic is averaging 24.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7 assists, while his team is 14-6. Sometimes it looks like Denver could play four random fans alongside him and still be competitive. The Nuggets, however, are finally getting healthy, and Jamal Murray — 67 points on 26-of-43 shooting in his past two games — has them looking like they have a one-two punch about as strong as anybody.

Bleacher Report

Nuggets Rank: 4
Last week: 4

As long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is around, talk of others nosing their way into the MVP race will always be a little pointless. But if there’s a sub-Giannis tier of the MVP discussion, Nikola Jokic may be moving toward the top of it.

Jokic, unbothered by the defense of Rudy Gobert, ripped off 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists as a seven-man Denver squad earned a 98-95 road win over the Jazz on Wednesday. That, after Jokic went for 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists to beat the Blazers 127-99 on Tuesday. And if you’re into clutch play, nobody’s better than the Nuggets center.

Denver moved on from Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez at the deadline, prizing the first-round pick it got more highly than the looming offseason decisions it faced on both players’ restricted free agencies. Beasley (ninth) and Hernangomez (12th) didn’t rank high on the list of total minutes logged for the Nuggets this season, so their absences won’t be all that hard to cover.

Jordan McRae and Keita Bates-Diop, who’ll effectively replace Beasley and Hernangomez, might even represent upgrades in their limited roles. And if Jamal Murray’s 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting against the Suns on Saturday presage a hot streak, Denver, 3-0 this week, won’t be short on scoring the rest of the way.

Sport’s Illustrated

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 6

My goodness, Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets delightful center has been downright dominant in Denver’s last six games, nearly averaging a 27-point triple-double. Jokic turned in his best performance of the year against Utah on Feb. 5, becoming the third player in NBA history to score 30 points while adding 20 rebounds and 10 assists. The Serbian center is one of a kind and a true gift to the game. Perhaps he’ll have his Dirk moment in one Finals this decade.

The Athletic

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 8

Phenomenal week for the Nuggets. They went 3-0 with wins over Portland, Utah and Phoenix. The win over Utah was simply ridiculous. They should have lost that game in like five different ways, and they just kept chipping away at Utah’s resolve. Nikola Jokic kept coming at the back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year and there was nothing really Rudy Gobert could do to stop him. The Jazz just had to hope for the Nuggets to miss some shots. Denver keeps building right now, even as it has had guys in and out of the lineup consistently.

But I do have one concern. How much do they need Gary Harris in order to take the next step in pushing deeper into the playoffs? He’s just bad right now. He’s down to 39.8 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from deep. They overcame his 0-of-13 night, but I’m wondering what the tipping point is with him. Over his last 12 games, Harris has made just 27.9 percent of his shots. He’s made just 5-of-42 from downtown during this stretch. Harris has been a bit of a bad investment so far because of injuries causing inconsistency on the court. And it may have cost them Malik Beasley at the deadline. They don’t need Harris to be a top guy right now, but he has to be a threat to keep things spaced and balanced on offense.

CBS Sports

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 6

Winners of three straight and seven of their last 10, the Nuggets are finally starting to get healthy, with Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap making their return to the court this week. Murray wasted no time finding his groove, averaging 29 points per game this week on 61 percent shooting and 57 percent 3-pointers. He scored 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting against the Suns with an effective field goal percentage of 100. Nikola Jokic continued his MVP-level play, averaging 27.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists for the week.

NBA.com

Nuggets Rank: 6
Last week: 6

The Nuggets pared down their extended rotation at the deadline, but not to the end of upgrading their top 10. That’s OK if Nikola Jokic (averaging 27.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists over a 5-1 stretch) and Jamal Murray (29.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 74% since returning from a 10-game absence) continue to play like they have recently. The Nuggets have been without at least three of their top 10 guys in each of their last 13 games, but they haven’t broken stride.

Gary Harris was the primary defender as the Denver defense (back in the top 10) held Damian Lillard in check again on Tuesday, but it would be nice if Harris could make a shot. He has shot 28% (including 5-for-42, with 10 straight misses, from 3-point range) since early January and was 0-for-13 in Utah on Wednesday. He was still on the floor down the stretch as the Nuggets closed with a 14-3 run, highlighted by Jokic’s casual go-ahead bucket with less than a minute to go. It was the second time in seven days that the Nuggets had come back from double-digits to beat the Jazz, and Denver now leads the league with 14 wins (they’re 14-11) after trailing by 10 points or more.