When Nikola Jokic fell to the court and grabbed his right knee against Utah on Tuesday night, fear ripped through the Denver Nuggets’ fan base.
The reigning NBA MVP looked to be in significant pain after colliding with Jazz center Rudy Gobert and a significant knee injury would have been devastating to Denver’s title hopes.
Not only did Jokic turn out to be OK, he hasn’t missed a game. In fact, he has led the Nuggets to two straight wins on back-to-back nights. Denver will go for its third straight at the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
The Nuggets pulled out a 93-91 win at Minnesota on Saturday night, while the Grizzlies are coming off a 129-103 home loss to Miami, also on Saturday night.
While Jokic has vaulted into superstar status with his MVP award, Memphis has its own dynamic player in Ja Morant. The guard, tied with Steph Curry as the NBA’s co-leading scorers entering Sunday, has played well in the first six games of the season and helped lead the Grizzlies to an overtime win at Golden State last week.
He is one of several young stars on the Memphis team that includes Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. But with youth come growing pains and the Grizzlies experienced some in the blowout loss to the Heat, a lesson they can apply against Denver.
“We got punched in the mouth,” De’Anthony Melton said after the loss to Miami. “I think we’ve got to understand that facing veteran teams like that, they’re going to come out (fast), and we’ve got to respond. And we’ve got to respond quick.”
Kyle Anderson agreed.
“We’ve got to lock in for the game and come out and play hard for a full 48,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to give teams any advantages or things like that. So, we’ve got to come out ready to go.”
The Nuggets are young but they possess plenty of experience with three straight playoff runs. Jokic is one of the elder statesmen at 26 years old, and he is the unquestioned leader of the team.
But Denver may have found a sparkplug in rookie Bones Hyland. He has only played in three of six games this season, but he made a big contribution against the Timberwolves on Saturday night, which included a important 3-pointer down the stretch. Head coach Michael Malone said the rookie was the reason the Nuggets pulled out a game they were lucky to win.
“Zero hesitation,” Malone said of Hyland’s shot. “He is fearless. He represents a city in Wilmington, Delaware, that loves him. The pride he plays with is for his family and his community back home. … I just told our coaches, ‘Man, every time I put that kid in, it’s becoming so obvious. He needs to play every night.’ I don’t think we win this game without Bones Hyland.”
Hyland’s play may have earned him more playing time, which would infuse some much-needed production off the bench. Denver’s reserves have struggled this season, and Malone has tried different things to fix the problem, including inserting a couple of starters in when he goes to the bench.
–Field Level Media