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NBA

Jokic underlines NBA MVP credentials in Nuggets' win over Pelicans

Nikola Jokic hit 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to inspire the Denver Nuggets to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

Update:
Jokic underlines NBA MVP credentials in Nuggets' win over Pelicans
Ron ChenoyUSA TODAY Sports

The dominant contender in the discussions about the NBA MVP award, which are becoming more and more frequent as the end of the regular season approaches, is Joel Embiid. The Philadelphia 76ers center is certainly enjoying the best season of his career. But the Cameroonian is far from the only candidate being put forward. Players such as DeMar DeRozan, Ja Morant and the indefatigable Giannis Antetokounmpo are also among the names being mentioned. So too is Luka Doncic, who has been playing spectacularly well for the last month and a half. The abundance of possible picks is evidence of the high level of basketball the league’s top stars are playing this year. And there’s one name, perhaps the only name, that has been on the list of potential MVPs since the word go, and hasn’t left it even for a single day. Perhaps because Nikola Jokic's brilliance is just so routine, we’re guilty of overlooking that the reigning MVP is enjoying a season that’s as incredible as anything else we’re seeing right now.

Nuggets are where they are this season thanks to Jokic

The Denver Nuggets, who have been without Jamal Murray, their second-best player, for the whole season, and have been missing their third-best, Michael Porter Jr, for much of it, are sixth in the West, with a 38-26 record. They’re one win off fifth, two and a half off fourth and five off second. And it’s all basically thanks to the Serb, who is averaging 25.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, eight assists, 1.4 steals and a 57.1% field-goal success rate. Numbers that no-one has ever managed in a complete season in the history of the NBA. In games such as the Nuggets’ victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night, it’s plain to see why Jokic was MVP last year and why he could well claim the trophy for a second straight season. Indeed, if you really think about it, it’s very possible it would be the fairest outcome. If a word like ‘fair’ can be applied to an individual award in a team sport.

The Nuggets, who were 21 points in front at one point in the first quarter, saw their advantage slip away bit by bit until the Pelicans got themselves ahead in the third period. New Orleans are no longer just any old team. They came into the game on a run of four wins in a row - with an average margin of 26.8 points - having seen off teams of the stature of the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz. After the referees ejected Nuggets head coach Mike Malone in the third quarter for two technicals, together with a further two called against DeMarcus Cousins and Bryn Forbes, Denver found themselves with a double-digit deficit to make up. Victory was in serious danger. It’s just a shame for the Pelicans that they were up against Jokic.

Jokic drags Nuggets to come-from-behind OT win

The center rolled his sleeves up and was absolutely everywhere. That’s something he’s undoubtedly the best at. There is no other player right now that can do everything as well as him. The 27-year-old ended up with his 17th triple-double of the season: 46 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, in addition to three steals, four blocks, a 72.7% field-goal rate, 60% on three-pointers and 91.7% on free throws. It’s his second 40-point triple double; between them, every other player in the Nuggets’ history has managed just one (Michael Adams in 1991). It was Jokic who nervelessly levelled the game from the free-throw line 3.5 seconds from the end, and it was Jokic who almost avoided overtime with a steal and assist to Jeff Green, whose shot just failed to beat the buzzer. Afterwards, in OT, a three-pointer 1:30 from the end took the wind out of the Pelicans’ sails of the Pelicans; from 130-126 up, they didn’t score another point as a 12-0 Denver run sealed a 138-130 triumph for the Nuggets. “This was a winnable game we gave away,” the Pelicans’ C.J. McCollum said afterwards. New Orleans had victory in their grasp, but Jokic, who racked up 30 points in the fourth quarter and OT, had other ideas.

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