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Nikola Jokić Dominates the Wizards on Serbian Heritage Night

Brendan Vogt Avatar
January 22, 2024

Nikola Jokić – A+

Clever jokes flew around the Nuggets-claimed corners of the internet ahead of this matchup. Denver’s Devastating Duo had just beaten the Celtics in Boston. Twenty-five combined points wouldn’t have surprised us in a potential letdown game. But Jokić and the starters played responsibly against maybe the league’s worst team.

Jokić finished with 42 points and the DPOG chain. He took 20 shots in the paint and 14 free throws Sunday night. That was it. No threes. Nothing from outside the paint. Nothing but otherwordly touch, preternatural strength, and mesmerizing footwork near the rim. It was that easy for him. The Wizards made it that easy.

Washington chose to single-cover Nikola Jokić — a type of coverage he rarely sees. The game plan had virtually no wrinkles, perhaps because Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. doesn’t trust the league’s worst defense to execute anything layered. They matched up and hooped. Jokić stuffed them in a locker.

Jamal Murray – C+

Murray struggled from the floor yet never lost his confidence. He led all players in field goal attempts with 23, despite hitting only 7. Unsurprisingly, he looked good with the starters and finished with seven assists to one turnover. But things got ugly when he led the second unit. This is an easy game to break down: the bench struggled, and the starters took care of business.

Michael Porter Jr. – B+

Two things stood out from MPJ’s performance: his mid-range shooting and his defense. Porter drained three long jump shots inside the arc. He’s so comfortable from that distance right now. He’s looking to set that shot up more often as he attacks screens. They aren’t even touching the rim.

Porter flew around defensively in the first half. He finished the game with two steals and two blocks. He was one of three starters to record four combined steals and blocks. A fourth, KCP, finished with three.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B

Three rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a drawn foul while fighting over a screen — there are no trap games for KCP. The shotmaking may come and go, but Pope only plays in top gear. He also made life miserable for Jordan Poole.

Aaron Gordon – B

AG secured a double-double and blocked three shots in the win. That’s winning basketball. Unfortunately, the free-throw woes have reared their ugly head again. Gordon shot 3/7 from the line and looks noticeably less comfortable there as he navigates discomfort in his right shoulder. That’s something to keep an eye on.

Reggie Jackson – D+

This well has dried up since Murray’s return to the bench. Some of that is about the awkwardness of the pairing. And some of it is about Jackson. For all of his talent and high-ceiling performances, he’s never been a bastion of consistency. Buyout candidates are typically limited. He’d be starting somewhere if he could bring the juice every night.

Peyton Watson – C+

It was a rough night for the second unit, particularly its offense. Still, Watson flashed some defensive prowess. He left DC with three blocks off the bench.

Christian Braun – D

Braun’s virtually a non-factor on offense right now. If you’re in the silver-lining business, he did grab six boards against the Wizards, which led all players on Denver’s bench. Braun used to grab rebounds he had no business securing. He used to do it consistently. That should be a controllable way for him to make an impact right now, regardless of what’s happening around him.

Zeke Nnaji – F

Nnaji fell out of the rotation against the Washington Wizards. That’s not a good sign. He’s running out of chances if he hasn’t already.

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