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"Man, he's a monster": Nikola Jokic has gone to another level...perhaps an MVP level?

Christian Clark Avatar
December 19, 2018

Seven nuggets for the numbers of points Monte Morris scored during the final 5 minutes and 43 seconds of Denver’s 126-118 win over Dallas on Tuesday.

1. During a break in action, the two mighty mite point guards discussed the big man who was dominating the game. J.J. Barea was in awe of the way Nikola Jokic was steamrolling through Dallas’ defense. So while the game paused for free throws, he asked Monte Morris, his backup point guard counterpart, about Denver’s unorthodox star.

“He was like, ‘Man, he’s a monster. Did he gain weight or something?’” Morris said. “I said, ‘No, he actually lost weight. Yeah, he’s a problem.'”

The Mavericks had no answer for Jokic, who forced DeAndre Jordan to foul out in 27 minutes and roasted Dwight Powell like a rotisserie chicken. Jokic had 11 in the first quarter, 22 at halftime and 36 by game’s end. He made 13 of the 25 shots he took, grabbed 16 rebounds, got his hands on three steals and blocked one shot. He was a plus-15 in 35 minutes.

“I think Nikola is showing everyone in the NBA with three starters out he is a Most Valuable Player candidate,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Not just from a stats standpoint. He does it every single night in so many different ways. That’s why he’s a special player, and that’s why we love he’s a Nugget.”

2. MVP candidate? Malone’s declaration wasn’t far-fetched. Jokic has gone to another level in these last five games while Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap have been unavailable. His numbers since Dec. 8: 26.6 ppg (54.9 percent shooting), 12.8 rpg, 6 apg. The Nuggets are 4-1 in that stretch with wins over the Grizzlies, Thunder, Raptors and Mavericks. They sit atop the Western Conference despite an injury report that takes half an hour to read over. With Jokic as the leading man, they just keep cruising along.

3. Jokic was brilliant. So was Jamal Murray. The third-year point guard had one of his best facilitating games as a pro, handing out a career-high 15 assists. He didn’t throw any no lookers or behind the backs to get to that mark. Instead, Murray just made sound decisions all game.

“I think what’s helping is the way we space the floor,” Malone said. “If you want to be an efficient offense, you better make sure you have proper spacing. A couple games ago I thought our spacing was really bad. We watched it on film and spent a couple days working on it. I think it’s paid off.”

4. Murray made the play of the game in the fourth quarter. Wesley Matthews, one of the league’s burlier wings, tried to back Murray down and shoot a hook shot over him. Murray snuffed it out, swallowed up Matthews’ attempt and took it the other way for two.

Murray scored 10 of his 22 in the fourth quarter two nights after scoring 15 fourth-quarter points against Toronto. “When he wakes up like that, there is no way you can stop him,” Jokic said. “We just need to set him a good screen, and he is going to be wide open.”

5. Here is a list of the most solid materials on Earth, which has been confirmed independently by nine different scientists: diamonds, steel and Monte Morris. Morris hit three shots down the stretch that helped the Nuggets put the game away, a 3 from the left wing with 5:43 to go, a floater with 2:46 remaining and a mid-range jumper with 1:51 on the clock.

“Monte Morris is playing like a 10-year veteran out there,” Malone said. “He’s got ice water in his veins right now.” 

Morris finished with 16 points, five assists and one turnover. He’s up to 123 assists and 20 turnovers on the season. The Nuggets are outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possession with him on the floor.

“I’m not even surprised anymore,” Jokic said. “I think the team expects him to do that.” 

6. Jokic was holding the final box score in his hand when he met with the media. A reporter opened things up by asking what stood out to him. “Their bench’s minutes and their plus-minus,” he said. “And our bench’s plus.”

Denver’s reserves dominated Dallas’. It’s been like that most nights this season. Morris has been a revelation. Malik Beasley (12 points) is a pogo stick with a dangerous outside shot and two-way ability. Mason Plumlee, who’s moved into the starting lineup these last four games with Millsap out, has been a star in a low-usage role. Trey Lyles is the only member of the reserve unit who’s struggled this year, but he responded with 16 points Tuesday.

The last two seasons, the Nuggets got crushed when Jokic went to the bench. That’s not the case this year. They’re outscoring opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when Jokic sits. The big man can rest easy knowing his team’s not going to blow the lead.

7. It happened. It finally happened. You can now place a bean over the “Shootout at the O.K. Corral” space on your Michael Malone bingo card. The Nuggets led the Mavericks 74-69 at halftime. Afterward, Malone summed up that wild half thusly: “The first half was a shootout at the O.K. Corral. What I like is in the second half our defense was better.”

The Nuggets are 21-9. What a coaching job Malone has done. What a first 30 games it’s been.

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