The Denver Post

Is Denver too touchy about criticism of Jokic, Nuggets?

- Columnist Mark Kiszla debates Nuggets reporter Mike Singer

KIZ>> Hey, Nuggets Nation. Why are you so up in your feelings? Who cares if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t think Nikola Jokic is worthy of winning the MVP again? If knucklehea­ds on ESPN think the Lakers could take out Denver in the playoffs, so what? Until they win a championsh­ip, the Nuggets will be doubted, by foes and commentato­rs alike. Chill out, y’all. Nothing shouts inferiorit­y complex like being hurt by what some talking heads on television think.

SINGER>> Come on, Kiz. You know this better than anyone. As a fan, there’s no card more fun to play than the disrespect card. The disrespect toward Jokic’s back-to-backto-back MVP march, the dismissive­ness of the Nuggets as a true contender, and the indifferen­ce, overall, to the methodical, prudent way the Nuggets have built this organizati­on all serve as delicious fodder for fomenting fans. As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right: until they hoist the trophy, pundits will doubt them. But it’s a good thing, then, that Joker’s spent a career flipping doubters into believers.

KIZ>> There aren’t many advantages to being as old as I am, but these doubts about Jokic and the Nuggets do sound vaguely familiar to me. Michael Jordan didn’t win his first NBA championsh­ip until he was 28 years old and Lebron James had to leave Cleveland for Miami before claiming the O’brien Trophy during his ninth NBA season. In his eighth pro season and shortly after celebratin­g his 28th birthday, it’s fair to start wondering whether Jokic’s MVP magic can buy him some championsh­ip hardware.

SINGER>> Don’t sell yourself short, Kiz. I heard you and James Naismith used to run a devilish pick-and-roll. Your point on Joker is a valid one. In no postseason has he ever underperfo­rmed, in my opinion, yet this season he’s armed with the most complete roster he’s ever had to win. The last time they were this healthy, the Nuggets reached the conference finals. But now with a more mature Michael Porter Jr., a bulldog forward in Aaron Gordon and a sniper like Kentavious Caldwell-pope, Jokic has his army. But with that comes pressure, and the expectatio­ns to realize their potential.

KIZ>> Jordan and James are two of the greatest players in basketball history. But Jordan needed help from Scottie Pippen and Lebron James required an assist from Dwyane Wade to win the first NBA championsh­ips of their storied careers. So while much of the criticism about the Nuggets is balderdash, I think one very legit question hangs over the No. 1 seed in the West: When the going gets tough in the playoffs and defenses lock down on him, does Jokic have enough help to win a championsh­ip?

SINGER>> It’s been a few years since he’s been in the playoffs, but I trust Jamal Murray in these situations. I also trust Caldwell-pope, who went through Denver to win a championsh­ip with the Lakers in the Bubble. In the starting unit, I think Gordon needs to break some mental ceilings, as does Porter. Off the bench, Bruce Brown is a gritty, versatile defender whose motor is constantly running. Beyond that, I don’t know who else Michael Malone trusts. Frankly, some of that may be establishe­d over the initial rounds of the postseason. To win, teams need talent, sacrifice, and good fortune. They also need individual­s to push the limits of their capabiliti­es. Buckle up. The rubber’s about to meet the road.

 ?? AARON ONTIVEROZ — THE DENVER POST ?? Denver’s Nikola Jokic speaks to the gathered press during NBA All Star practice media day at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City last month.
AARON ONTIVEROZ — THE DENVER POST Denver’s Nikola Jokic speaks to the gathered press during NBA All Star practice media day at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City last month.
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