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All eyes are on him: Nuggets Nikola Jokic scores season-high 40 in MVP-caliber performance

All eyes are on him: Nuggets Nikola Jokic scores season-high 40 in MVP-caliber performance
Published On: Mon, Jan 14
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Juan Hernangomez greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number fifteen overall pick to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Nuggets franchise superstarA Nikola JokicA was as blunt as hea€™s been all season following Saturdaya€™s dispiriting loss to the Suns. He was critical of the teama€™s effort and irritated that they had played like they could waltz over last-place Phoenix.

And then on Sunday, prior to the Nuggetsa€™ matchup against the Blazers, he sensed something similar happening again.

a€œTo be honest, I thought in the warm-ups we were kind of loose,a€ Jokic said. a€œWe were not focused.a€

That attitude preempted his forthcoming assault on the Blazers, a potpourri of post moves, 3-pointers and assists that buried Portland and left former teammateA Jusuf NurkicA in his wake.

Jokic scored 23 of his season-high 40 points in the second half, rising to the occasion as Blazers franchise star Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum pecked away at the Nuggetsa€™ lead. Jokic finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Nuggetsa€™ riveting 116-113 win to improve to an NBA-best 18-3 at home. Hea€™s just the fifth center since 1985 to post at least those numbers, joining David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille Oa€™Neal and DeMarcus Cousins.

Jokica€™s on-court ascendance has vaulted him into the MVP conversation, but his biggest development has come in trusting his voice and shaping the locker room culture. After the game he claimed hea€™s not one to challenge his teammates.

a€œIf they dona€™t want to get better or whatever, how am I going to help them?a€ Jokic mused. a€œJust yell at them? In Serbia, challenging is yelling at you.a€

But rather than lay into his teammates after turning the ball over in Phoenix or belabor poor effort in transition defense, Jokic simply set the tone Sunday. He took the first six shots against the Blazers and showed a relentless, bullheaded mindset while pounding the ball in the paint. After the first quarter hea€™d taken 10 shots; no one else on the Nuggets had more than three. In the decisive third quarter, when the Nuggets outscored the Blazers 35-28, Jokic had 15 points on 6 for 6 shooting and five assists. In the fourth, he and rising starA Jamal MurrayA shared the responsibility, the two combining for 17 of the teama€™s 23 points.

Jokica€™s trust in Murray is evident, their on-court chemistry budding like a weed. It was Murray, freed by a Jokic screen, who dropped in a soft floater with the Nuggets up 112-110 with 34 seconds remaining. Jokic immediately squeezed him with a bear hug. It was also Murray who missed another floater moments later only to secure the offensive rebound and sink two clutch free throws to maintain the 116-113 cushion.

Part of his development is knowing when to defer, an acknowledgement that Murray is entirely capable of hunting his shots in the clutch. But ita€™s also knowing when ita€™s time to impose his seven-foot imprint should the game call for it.

Read the complete news article here...

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