As the world awakens from its Thanksgiving pit coma — having devoured Wednesday’s appetizing slate of NBA action — brace yourself for dessert from sweet Serb and reigning two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic, who helms the Denver Nuggets in the Crypto.com Arena leads Friday against the LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
“Hey, I played Nikola Jokic for 64 minutes in a playoff game once,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone quipped Wednesday after his team surpassed Oklahoma City 131-126 in overtime. “People don’t think of him as athletic, but he’s like Secretariat. He can run for days.”
Jokic showed that in his second straight game with 31 or more points and his first career game in which the 27-year-old had 39 points, 10 boards and nine assists in just 11 field goals 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 points in the first quarter.
Overall, the Nuggets star crawls up another spot to No. 3 in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder after coming back strong after missing three games due to NBA health and safety protocols.
Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum remain in the top two spots after the Celtics beat the Mavericks 125-112 on Wednesday on the Mavericks’ 37-point double-double, while Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry maintained his top-five debuted.
Jokic scored a combined 70 points on Tuesday and Wednesday and earned himself a well-deserved rest ahead of Friday’s clash with the Clippers in Los Angeles.
“I thought Nikola showed you from the start, ‘Okay, we’re not losing tonight,'” Malone said as Denver avoided dropping two straight games for the second time this season. “He came out ultra-aggressive, set the tone early. Scoring goals, playing for the basket and knowing that we have a lot of firepower. It’s funny how Nikola gets 39, 10 and 9 and it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, he was good tonight.’ That is the definition of a great player.”
Jokic and Bruce Brown combined for 23 boards as Denver destroyed Oklahoma City on glass 55-26 to finish with the second-highest rebound total of the season.
The Nuggets are now 3-0 in 2022-23 if they gobble up 50 or more rebounds.
“In the back of my mind I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving with two losses,'” Malone said. “Nothing is going to taste good on Thanksgiving when we have two losses in a row. Phew, humbug. With this you can fly to LA tonight and enjoy a nice day tomorrow. We will have a team dinner and celebrate. [I’m] very thankful for the boys in this locker room.”
And now the top 5 in the Kia race 2022-23 to the MVP ladder:
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Ranking of the last week: number 1
Season Stats: 34.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.1 apg
Doncic, the NBA’s top scorer, lost 42 points for his fourth 40-point game of the season in Wednesday’s showdown against Tatum. The 23-year-old is now the second-fastest player in NBA history (in terms of games played) to have 7,500+ points, 2,000+ rebounds and 2,000+ assists, behind Oscar Robertson, who made the performance in 254 games compared to the Dallas Guard’s 280 appearances. Still, the Mavericks are only 1-5 on the road this season, and they’ve dropped three of their last four, with tough road games looming on the horizon in Toronto and Milwaukee.
2.Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Ranking of the last week: No. 2
Season Stats: 30.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.7 apg
With 37 points and a season-high 13 rebounds against the Mavericks on Wednesday, the Celtics went 5-0 against their Western Conference opponents this season. The recent win led to a four-game losing streak against Dallas. “His ability to respond to the moment, his ability to make everyone around him better, you can count on him to play every night,” said Boston coach Joe Mazzulla. Tatum currently leads the NBA in total points (550) and reeled off 23 of his team-best 37 points in the second half against Dallas. The 24-year-old combined with Jaylen Brown for 68 points and produced his 16th career outing with 30 points and 10 rebounds to break a tie with Bill Russell for the ninth most games of that kind in Celtics history.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Ranking of the last week: number 4
Season Stats: 22.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 9.0 apg
The reigning two-time MVP, who averaged nearly a triple-double, is starting to turn the dial up on his goals after averaging 70 points in his last two games. Jokic shot a stunning 16 of 18 from the free-throw line against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, marking only the second time in his career that he threw down 16 free throws in a game. “I gave Nikola about a minute [and] 49 seconds of rest at the end of the third and he played the rest of the way,” Malone said of Jokic, who scored 10 points and provided five assists in the fourth quarter alone.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Ranking of the last week: #3
Season Stats: 30.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.5 apg
Milwaukee seems to be losing momentum after losing four of its last six. But Antetokounmpo kept producing, playing his 132nd career game with 30 points or more and more than 10 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. However, the two-time MVP fought through the goals, scoring just eight of his game best of 36 points in the first half with 4-of-11 shots. Milwaukee coughed up their second-most turnovers (20) of the season, resulting in 17 points for the Bulls. Antetokounmpo was responsible for a game high of eight turnovers.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Ranking of the last week: #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 stark to imagine where they would be if Curry weren’t in the lead. After all, he has accumulated 30 points or more in 11 of his first 16 games this season, which is the first time he has managed to do so in his career. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 40 points in Wednesday’s LA Clippers blowout, with the former knocking down 4-of-10 from the deep and dishing out nine dimes as Golden State improved to 8-1 at home. In a streak that began in December 2018, Curry has drilled at least a 3-pointer in an NBA-record 206 consecutive regular-season games. He can dribbleby the way too.
The next five:
6. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: #9)
7. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: #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. Yes Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: #5)
And five others (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets; Joel Embid, Philadelphia 76ers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks.
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Michael C. Wright is senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him herefind his archive here and keep following him Twitter.
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