A close win in Memphis on Friday was soon forgotten as the Nuggets dropped to the Dallas Mavericks the next day. Fatigue and an unanticipated COVID-19 testing error appears to really have disrupted Denver’s schedule on Saturday, but regardless, the team didn’t play well. Jamal Murray in particular has really struggled since the All-Star break. Murray has shot just 5-27 in those two games and contributed 13 points combined.
The Nuggets will have their chances this week all at home starting tonight against Indiana, followed by Charlotte on Wednesday, Chicago on Friday and New Orleans on Sunday. For now, see where the Nuggets rank in this week’s roundup of NBA power rankings:
Last week: 9
Jamal Murray has come out of the break in a shooting slump, missing 22 of 27 shots and scoring a total of 13 points in two games. But Nikola Jokic’s MVP campaign picked up where it left off and Michael Porter Jr. is playing his most consistent basketball of the season, averaging 22.6 points and 9.3 rebounds in his past three games. The Nuggets aren’t whole yet, but they’re getting closer with Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green recently returning.
Last week: 5
Question: Can Nikola Jokic make a push back into the MVP race?
Some may ask if Nikola Jokic has ever left the discussion. The Denver Nuggets big man has been stellar this season but has almost gone unnoticed due to the outstanding play of Joel Embiid and the narrative dominance of LeBron James. Struggling out of the gate by comparison as a team has put Jokic behind the rest for the award.
The injury to Joel Embiid Saturday night (more on that later) has opened the door again. The numbers for Jokic are impressive: 27.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. He has improved from distance, hitting 41.1 percent of his 3.7 attempts per game and continues to thrive overall with a 60.7 effective field goal percentage. That ranks 15th in the league among players who play at least 25 minutes per game and have appeared in at least 25 games.
As a team, the Nuggets have won seven of their last 10 games and appear to be slowly getting back to form. Should they continue to climb the standings it will be tough to argue against Jokic as the MVP of the league. With the potential struggles in the coming weeks for the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers that might just be easier.
Last week: 8
A gritty road victory over the Grizzlies took its toll on the Nuggets the next night against a hot Mavericks squad, leading to a 1-1 week. Jamal Murray came out of the break in a horrific slump, scoring just 13 total points on 5-for-27 shooting in the two games. Nikola Jokic enjoyed no such struggles, averaging 27 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Denver is also starting to get healthy, with Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green returning to the court this week.
Last week: 5
Jamal Murray went into the All-Star break averaging 28.5 points on 55%/47%/92% shooting splits over his last 12 games. Murray had one of the best dimes of the season in Memphis on Friday, but totaled just 13 points on 5-for-27 shooting (with just one free throw attempt) as the Nuggets split a back-to-back against the Grizzlies and Mavs.
Joel Embiid’s injury opens the door for Nikola Jokic in the MVP race, and his stop against Ja Morant to save the win on Friday helps the argument that he’s more than a one-way player. (Opponents have still shot 66.4% at the rim when he’s been there to protect it and that ranks as the worst rim-protection mark among 34 players who’ve defended at least five shots at the rim per game.)
But the Nuggets’ All-Star needs help in regard to the “team success” component of the race. The schedule can help in that regard, and the Nuggets will now play seven of their next eight games against teams that currently have losing records, with the lone exception being their game against the 19-18 Hornets on Wednesday. The Nuggets are 11-6 against those bottom 14 teams thus far, and they no longer have to play the two teams – Sacramento and Washington – responsible for five of those six losses.