“I’m a Michael Jackson impersonator…”

I had been at the restaurant for less than five minutes. The young lady across the table from me had been there for all of two minutes, and we’d just been talking about the bad traffic to get to the restaurant where we were meeting. Those were our first spoken words to one another, aside from a greeting. She decided to kick off the second stanza with a revelation about her hobbies. To be fair, she was thin and pale. Apparently there was a glove in her purse from a recent performance. I was amazed and disconcerted all at the same time.

The third stanza was about her deep self-conflict between her being true to her role as an impersonator and a recent augmentation she’d had, and seemed to be somewhat proud of. I was nodding furiously, carefully staring straight into her eyes. I had not said anything beyond, “traffic was pretty rough, huh?”, and we didn’t have menus yet. The end of the evening felt like it was about a month out.

Two weeks later, a different first date involved me showing up with a bruise on my neck that my three-year old had accidentally given me, but that looked suspiciously like a hickey. I was in my young thirties with a pseudo-hickey. The girl across the table started out the meal with a beer and a shot of Jack. For lunch. We’d kicked the day off by meeting in a K-Mart parking lot for some quick shopping. An inauspicious start, and she ended up cutting the date short.

First dates can be brutal, but not always telling. I actually ended up marrying one of those two girls.

For a second there, I thought we were looking at 82 first dates for your Denver Nuggets..

On their first date/game together, Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap did manage 26 combined points (19 for Millsap), but nine combined turnovers and a fourth quarter meltdown had most of the voices around Nuggets Nation talking about an awkward beginning. The next few games showed a flash or two, but a lot more stumbling as well.

Cut to game eleven on Tuesday night, when Jokic put up a career-high 41 points, and Millsap hung 17 more. Even with Jokic shining, there were stretches of the game when Millsap was the best player on both ends of the floor while Jokic was still there, and the two were feeding each other repeatedly. Catch the look on each of these guys faces in their postgame interviews when they start talking about how they’re figuring things out together. If you’re in a hurry, cut to the 1:10 mark of the Jokic video, and the :22 second mark of the Millsap video.

To be fair, everyone is happy when you take it to a team and have a career-best involved, so some of the mood there is set by a post-win high. But there’s also no mistaking the potential each player is starting to see in the game they’re starting to play. The simple glee with which they describe playing what might be the world’s tallest pick-and-roll makes me grin every time I watch it.

You’ll find Jokic talking about “making the simple play” time and again in his interviews when the team’s offense has been successful. The more the Nuggets play with that example, the more often you see it extend to other players on the floor. Millsap is no exception. He’s always been a gifted passer and scorer, but he’s playing into the scheme easily as he naturally starts to better learn the system that revolves around a crazy-gifted center’s view of the court. Millsap can teach Jokic a great offensive wrinkle with his stutter-step-tastic post and drive moves. Each player can grow their individual games a lot by learning the strengths of the other.

Even though the offense can occasionally sputter when Jokic leaves the court, you still often see the team playing to the principle of sharing the ball until the open man can shoot. If the team stays committed to the style on the whole, they should only improve with the repetitions they’re getting as the season heats up.

If Jokic sets the timbre of the offense, then Millsap seems to be having a similarly positive effect on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s intensified defensive efforts are showing on the whole, but Millsap is one of the few career net-positive defenders on the squad, and has been the defensive tuning fork for the Nuggets of late. The season is still semi-young, and there’s room to improve, but the Nuggets find themselves in the middle of the pack for team defense thus far, a vast improvement on last season’s last-place finish. Millsap’s influence on that step forward seems obvious to one casual observer.

The second phase of this dating curve comes none too soon. We are hilariously already over an eighth of the way through the year. Are we going steady? Who knows? Once in a while, a bad first date turns into a marriage made in heaven.

This content is no longer available.