Nikola Jokic will meet one of his fiercest rivals when he and the Denver Nuggets visit Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
The first meeting of the season of playoff hopefuls pits a Nuggets team seeking to extend its winning streak to a season-best five games against a Hawks club that was firing on all cylinders in a 125-108 win at Orlando on Wednesday.
With Capela playing his first six seasons for the Houston Rockets, Jokic and Capela have gone head-to-head 19 times in their careers, all in the regular season.
Capela has enjoyed surprising success in more ways than one.
His team has prevailed in 12 of the 19 meetings, with 11 of those wins coming in 15 head-to-heads in Rockets-Nuggets matchups.
The biggest surprise has been Capela's ability to limit the high-scoring Jokic to just 17.1 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting. Capela has countered that with 14.6 points on 61.8 percent shooting.
The Atlanta big man also has enjoyed advantages in rebounds (10.9-10.3) and blocked shots (1.2-0.6).
Recent results appear to be trending in Jokic's direction, however. When the Nuggets swept the Hawks in their two-game season series last year, Jokic outscored Capela 22-14 in a home win in November and 20-15 in a road triumph in December.
Jokic is averaging 22.7 points per game, a figure that dropped a bit when he became more of a passer (12 assists) than a scorer (17 points on just nine shots) in Wednesday's 120-100 home win over the Rockets.
Jokic missed a triple-double by one rebound, the third time in his past five games that he's been denied by either one rebound or one assist.
He hasn't had a triple-double since Nov. 3, but he's had three in his career against Capela, including one in the November meeting last season when he complemented his 22 points with 19 rebounds and 10 assists.
Three starters each outscored Jokic in the win over the Rockets, and four reserves combined to contribute an additional 34 points to the win. It's that type of balance that's made the Nuggets an early season success, newcomer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope insists.
"We have to build that chemistry and play for each other. No one is better than the next person," he said. "We know that Jokic is the MVP. We all have to fill in those gaps and play our roles."
Capela hit nine of his 10 shots during a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double in Orlando on Wednesday. He benefited from some of the 20 combined assists guards Trae Young (14) and Dejounte Murray (six) distributed.
Not everything went perfectly against the Magic, as both John Collins and De'Andre Hunter sustained injuries that required MRI exams Thursday. Collins will miss at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, per the team; Hunter was ruled out for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain.
Jarrett Culver and Trent Forrest helped to take the sting out of the injuries with a combined 13 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.
"They went down to the G League and played well. I wanted to find a way to give them minutes," Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. "We were able to get Trent in the rotation the last couple games, and Jarrett got his opportunity (against the Magic). They both were productive. We don't win (the Orlando) game if those guys don't go out and contribute the way they did."
--Field Level Media