As the world snaps out of its Thanksgiving grub coma — after devouring Wednesday’s appetizing slate of NBA action — brace for dessert from the sweet-shooting Serbian and reigning two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic, who leads the Denver Nuggets into Crypto.com Arena on Friday to face the LA Clippers (10:30 ET, NBA TV).
“Hey, I played Nikola Jokic 64 minutes once in a playoff game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone quipped Wednesday after his team outlasted Oklahoma City 131-126 in overtime. “People don’t think he’s athletic, but he’s like Secretariat. He can run for days.”
Jokic showcased as much in reeling off his second-consecutive outing with 31 points or more, and first career game in which the 27-year-old racked up 39 points, 10 boards, and nine assists on just 11 field goals made with 16 free throws. Jokic inflicted that damage without the help of starters Jamal Murray (rest) and Michael Porter Jr. (left heel), nailing five buckets early for 14 first-quarter points.
In all, the Nuggets star crawls up another slot to No. 3 in this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder after coming back strong from missing three games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum remain in the top two spots, after the Celtics on Wednesday blasted the Mavericks 125-112 on the strength of the latter’s 37-point double-double, while Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry makes his top five debut.
Jokic, meanwhile, scored a combined 70 points Tuesday and Wednesday, earning a well-deserved rest heading into Friday’s clash in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I thought Nikola showed you from the get-go, ‘Alright, we’re not losing tonight,’” Malone said as Denver avoided dropping two in a row for what would have been just the second time this season. “He came out ultra-aggressive, set the tone early. Scoring, playing to the basket, knowing we had a lot of firepower out. It’s funny how Nikola gets 39, 10, and 9, and it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, he was good tonight.’ That’s the definition of a great player.”
Jokic and Bruce Brown combined for 23 boards as Denver destroyed Oklahoma City on the glass 55-26 to finish with its second-highest rebounding total of the season.
The Nuggets are now 3-0 in 2022-23 when they gobble up 50 rebounds or more.
“I kept on thinking in the back of my mind, ‘I don’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving with two losses,’” Malone said. “Nothing’s gonna taste good on Thanksgiving if we have two losses in a row. Bah, humbug. This allows you to fly to L.A. tonight, enjoy a nice day tomorrow. We’ll have a team meal and celebrate. [I’m] very thankful for the guys in that locker room.”
And now, the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 34.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.1 apg
The NBA’s leading scorer, Doncic dropped 42 points in Wednesday’s showdown against Tatum for his fourth 40-point outing of the season. The 23-year-old now ranks as the second-fastest player in NBA history (in terms of games played) to reach 7,500-plus points, 2,000-plus rebounds, and 2,000-plus assists, trailing only Oscar Robertson, who accomplished the feat in 254 games compared to the Dallas guard’s 280 outings. Still, the Mavericks are just 1-5 this season on the road, and they’ve dropped three of their last four with tough road games looming on the horizon at Toronto and Milwaukee.
2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 30.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.7 apg
Tallied 37 points and a season-high 13 rebounds against the Mavericks on Wednesday to keep the Celtics undefeated (5-0) this season against Western Conference opponents. The latest victory snapped a four-game losing streak against Dallas. “His ability to answer the moment, his ability to make everyone around him better, you can count on him to play every night,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. Tatum currently leads the NBA in total points (550) and reeled off 23 of his team-high 37 points in the second half against Dallas. The 24-year-old combined with Jaylen Brown for 68 points, producing his 16th career outing with 30 points and 10 rebounds to break a tie with Bill Russell for the ninth-most such games in Celtics history.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 22.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 9.0 apg
Averaging nearly a triple-double, the reigning two-time MVP is starting to turn up the dial on scoring, having poured in 70 points in his last two games. Jokic shot a blistering 16 of 18 from the free-throw line against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, marking just the second time in his career that he knocked down 16 free throws in a game. “I gave Nikola about a minute [and] 49-second rest at the end of the third, and he played the rest of the way,” Malone said of Jokic, who scored 10 points and dished five assists in the fourth quarter alone.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 30.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.5 apg
Milwaukee appears to be losing steam, having lost four of its last six. But Antetokounmpo continues to produce, putting together his 132nd career game with 30 points or more and 10-plus rebounds in Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls. Interestingly, the Bucks own a record of 101-31 when Antetokounmpo pumps out 30 points and 10 rebounds. The two-time MVP struggled out the gates, though, scoring just eight of his game-high tying 36 points in the first half on 4-of-11 shooting. Milwaukee coughed up its second-most turnovers (20) of the season, resulting in 17 points for the Bulls. Antetokounmpo was responsible for a game-high eight turnovers.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s ranking: No. 10
Season stats: 31.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.2 apg
The Warriors are almost back to .500 (9-10), and it’s almost cringy to think where they’d be without Curry leading the way. After all, he’s put up 30 points or more in 11 of his first 16 games this season, marking the first time in his career he’s accomplished that feat. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 40 points in Wednesday’s blowout of the LA Clippers, with the former knocking down 4 of 10 from deep and dishing nine dimes, as Golden State improved to 8-1 at home. In a streak that started in December of 2018, Curry has drilled at least one 3-pointer in an NBA-record 206 consecutive regular-season outings. He can dribble, too, by the way.
The Next Five:
6. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
7. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: No. 8)
8. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
9. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
10. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: No. 5)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks.
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