Denver’s Jokić Learns to Stand Up, Not to Get Thrown | Basketball

DENVER (AP) – Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokić regularly learns what all great men have had to understand when it comes to physical play: how to show it’s enough without hurting the team.

The Denver Nuggets center – dubbed “Joker” – is known to turn to officials about perceived no-calls down, with a frustrated look as he extends his arms.

It’s the life of a great man in the NBA. Just ask a Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard or even a Zion Williamson.

“I’ve coached a lot of good big guys and I still think it’s been kind of an open season for the big guys,” said Stan Van Gundy, analyst for TNT who coached the New Orleans Pelicans last season and has encouraged Williamson to speak out on fouls. “I mean, we just allow people to beat them. The adults must therefore make the decision of: “How much is enough? “”

The 7-foot Jokić hit his breaking point again last Monday, when he shoved Miami forward Markieff Morris in the back shortly after receiving an elbow in the ribs.

Jokic explained that his emotions got the better of him.

“I felt bad, really bad,” Jokić said afterwards. “I felt like I just needed to protect myself, but on the other hand, I’m not supposed to react that way, to be left out of the game.”

The crash then led to a back-and-forth Twitter exchange between brothers Jokić, Strahinja and Nemanja, and Morris’s twin, Marcus.

Last year in the playoffs, the Jokic brothers defended him after the Denver big man sensed an opponent had crossed the line. His siblings had to be held back in the stands when things turned sour between Jokić and Phoenix goalkeeper Devin Booker in the playoffs last season. Jokić has been sent off from this match.

It’s a fine line to walk, especially for skilled tall men.

“For great team players and big winners like Jokić, it’s the math. He would probably like to defend himself every night, but he puts the team ahead of him, ”said Van Gundy. “Because of that he has to put up with a lot of bullshit. But sometimes it’ll boil over and it’s hard to blame these guys for drawing the line.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone has long pushed for Jokić to receive more calls than he does as one of the best players in the game who regularly takes shots from his opponents.

This recent episode was a side of Jokic that hasn’t always been exposed. The cross known for his blind passes, top 3 points from the sideline and state-of-the-art rebounds lost his temper when Morris fouled him. The 6-9 Morris dug an elbow into the ribs at halfway and turned and walked away as if nothing had happened.

Morris had his back turned when Jokić hit back, knocking him to the ground with a thrust that left Morris with a sore neck. This earned 26-year-old Jokić an expulsion, a one-match suspension and a clear message: he will not take much.

“Look, man, sometimes when you’re challenged you have to let people know sometimes that it won’t be tolerated,” said Hall of Fame member Dominique Wilkins, analyst for the Atlanta Hawks TV shows. “You have to have that doggy mentality and that’s what we had back then.”

Back then, players could do it. In today’s NBA, the price is high.

With Jokić gone for another MVP-like season, posting big numbers with Jamal Murray (knee) sidelined, Denver can’t avoid him being ejected and suspended (the Nuggets beat Indiana in the game. where he was absent). A second-round pick in 2014, Jokic is averaging 25.3 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists until Sunday night.

The standout Serbian has two triple doubles this season and 59 for his career, placing him tied with Larry Bird for eighth all-time. Jokić is currently fifth in MVP ratings, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, behind Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I love it,” said Portland coach Chauncey Billups, who grew up in Denver and played for the Nuggets for two different periods. “He’s playing the right way. He plays for everyone on the pitch. I think his mind is contagious.

Van Gundy, the longtime NBA coach turned TNT analyst, has advice for anyone who thinks they have a way to stop him: “You don’t,” Van Gundy cracked. “That’s why the guy is the league MVP. “

Wilkins compares Jokić to centers like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing and Artis Gilmore. Wilkins also added Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

“Important crosses that could change the game, not only with their scoring, but also with the rebounds and the assists and things of that nature,” said Wilkins. “You just don’t see crosses like that in today’s game.

“He’s kind of an old school player with a new school twist.”

Like those who came before him, Jokic is learning when and how to retaliate – and stay in the game.


Freelance writer Michael Kelly contributed to this report.


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