On Wednesday, as he sat down for his postgame press conference at FedEx Forum only two days after losing at the hands of those same Grizzlies on the same floor, he had some sobering quotes:
"“They look to me as a leader. I need to be much better…It’s not them to blame. It’s me, then everybody else. It’s not one guy. You cannot say bench. You cannot say starters. You cannot say coach. It’s all collectively. It’s me first then the rest of the group.”"
Jokic has been nothing short of pure 24-karat gold since his return to the floor to defend his MVP title in 2021, averaging 13.4 rebounds per game and leading the league in both offensive and defensive box plus/minus.
He’s been the pick-axe as the Denver Nuggets continue to dig in and search for consistency along the roster. Jokic can be counted on nightly, and often seems to be the only one keeping Denver breathing in tough matchups with opponents like Memphis.
As Michael Malone tells Mike Singer, The Denver Post:
"“Every time Nikola comes out, everything just falls apart.“It’s every night. I went to him in the fourth quarter and I called his name. He looked at me kind of like, ‘Already?’ And I feel for him…Nikola’s going to be worn down by Christmas at this rate.”"
Christmas can’t come soon enough for these Nuggets as they look to replace the services of star guard Jamal Murray as he recovers from knee surgery and Michael Porter Jr. as he works to repair his broken shot. Michael Malone is also encouraged with the progress from rookie guard Bones Hyland, saying Hyland is firmly “in the rotation” moving forward.
Morant is taking the Grizzlies to new heights. Nuggets fans should not be discouraged about dropping two tough games on the road to a surefire playoff team that may be developing an MVP candidate of their own in Morant. Morant checks in top-five in points and points per game and only seems to be getting better, as his 360 layup just before halftime would attest to.
Denver should feel encouraged by Jokic’s play and trust that Malone will get the rest of the pieces sorted out.
Will Barton has been surging of late, logging 40 minutes and cashing in four 3-pointers in the narrow loss on Wednesday to add to his 26 total points in the game.
The Nuggets are going to need a third contributor along with Jokic and Barton to step up if they hope to contend with playoff teams like Memphis.
Nothing can cure an ailing team like the Nuggets such as a home-stand that begins with the Houston Rockets. Houston comes to Denver toting another All-Star candidate in big man in Christian Wood, who is top-five himself in rebounds per game with a 12.5 average. The Rockets gave the LA Lakers everything they could handle and led the Phoenix Suns at halftime in their last outing.
Although the Rockets sit at 1-7 on the season, they match up well with the Nuggets, surrounding their star center with playmakers like Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green.
For Denver, the Grizzlies can offer up a bar that must be set to achieve everything the Nuggets hope for in the 2021-22 season. Going home may be a chance to refocus and start a winning streak of their own as Jokic continues to drag the rest of the team onward.