Nikola Jokic is in the midst of another MVP-caliber season, so when he sat out Denver’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, it seemed like the Nuggets were vulnerable.
Instead, Denver showed it is much more than just Jokic with a 115-103 win over the Clippers — its 15th win in the last 18 games.
“I’m starting to think Nikola’s a little overrated,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone jokingly said after the win in Los Angeles.
Jokic (wrist) missed his first game due to injury — he was out for three games in November due to health and safety protocols — but his injury isn’t considered serious and he could play Sunday night when Denver hosts the Orlando Magic.
When Jokic missed time over the past two seasons, it was problematic because depth and experience were lacking on the roster. This year, with offseason moves to bring in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, the continued maturation of Bones Hyland and the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are capable of winning without the two-time MVP.
Murray and Porter have had ups and downs as they work themselves back into game condition. Murray missed all of 2021-22 while rehabbing from his left ACL repair, and Porter played just nine games before having back surgery.
Murray has started to look like he did before tearing his ACL on April 12, 2021, while Porter’s road back was derailed by a left heel strain that cost him a month in November and December.
“I’m starting to feel better and better,” Porter said. “My foot’s starting to feel a little better. My left foot is still healing, so I’m jumping off my right foot right now. Overall, I’m starting to feel a little bit more athletic.”
Orlando is coming off a four-point loss at Utah on Friday night but has played well after dropping 20 of its first 25 games. The Magic have gone 11-7 since but will face a tough task against a Denver team that has won 12 straight at home. However, the Magic were encouraged by the effort in the 112-108 loss to the Jazz.
“I think the fight was there. The intensity was there,” said the Magic’s Franz Wagner, who scored 26 points Friday night. “I think there was a bunch of moments in the game where we didn’t quit and that’s definitely something to build on.”
The Nuggets will get their first look at Orlando rookie Paolo Banchero, who leads the team in scoring at 21.2 points a game. Sunday will also see the return of Gary Harris and Bol Bol. Harris was traded to the Magic in 2021 in the deal that brought Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets, while Bol was traded to Boston last year and flipped to the Magic a month later.
Bol showed flashes of talent while with Denver but couldn’t break the rotation. He is getting the chance with Orlando and is making the most of it. He is averaging career-highs in points (11.8), minutes (25.9) and rebounds (7.0) and has played 38 games.
–Field Level Media