When Jamal Murray went down with a season-ending ACL injury against the Golden State Warriors last month, everyone assumed that the Denver Nuggets would take a step backward. Instead, thanks to the continued dominance of Nikola Jokic, they've surged into third place in the Western Conference.
Late on Saturday night, Jokic put up 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Nuggets to a 110-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers for their fifth win in a row. Since Murray's injury, they're now 9-1, with the only loss coming to the Warriors last weekend.
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Jokic, as has so often been the case this season, was in complete control all night long. In addition to the big numbers already mentioned, he shot 9 of 17 from the field, 10 of 10 from the free-throw line and didn't record a single turnover. This is now the third time in his career that Jokic has recorded a 30/10/5 game without a turnover, tying him with David Robinson for the most such performances by a center in the past 35 years.
Whether it was down in the post or at the top of the key, Jokic ran the show and had the Clippers on a string. If they tried to single cover him he would get to the rim for an easy bucket or just shoot over the top. And if the Clippers sent help he knew exactly where the open man was and delivered a pass on target.
This pass late in the fourth quarter to pretty much seal the game was perhaps the best play of the night. Jokic comes off a pick and as he catches the ball in the mid-post area, Rajon Rondo is sneaking in from the backside to try and get a steal. Not only does Jokic calmly secure the ball and keep it high away from Rondo's hands, but he whips a cross-court feed to Facundo Campazzo for a wide-open triple.
Simply put there's no defense against Jokic when he's in this type of form. If it wasn't clear by now, Jokic is the leading candidate for MVP, and this game was another reminder why that's the case.
With the win, the Nuggets are now 43-21, which has them all alone in third place in the West. They also secured the season series with the Clippers, which means they'll get the higher seed if they finish with the same record. Also, while it's unlikely they'll catch them at this point, it's worth mentioning that the Nuggets are now only three games back of the Utah Jazz for the best record in the league. The fact that it's even a conversation is really a testament to the way Jokic has kept this team together and moving forward despite all the injuries they've had.