Michael Malone was left to ponder what life was like for the Denver Nuggets prior to Nikola Jokic's presence after another star turn from the two-time NBA MVP.

Having sat out Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jokic returned to action in style in a 120-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 22 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season.

"What life was like before Nikola got here," Denver coach Malone asked afterwards.

"I think people don't do that. They're like 'It's always been like this.' No it wasn’t. No it wasn't. Don't do that. Don't lie to yourself.

“We have been spoilt and I'm sure some of us do find ourselves maybe taking it for granted.

"But just remind yourself that not many guys like Nikola Jokic walk through those doors. Appreciate every opportunity that you have to watch him play."

Friday's game was the Nuggets' 50th of the season, with the reigning NBA champions recording a 34-16 record, exactly the same as they had at the same stage last season.

"I like that we are still playing with the same effort," said Jokic, who is averaging 26.3 points per game.

"It's not like we won a championship and now we're going to go easy. I like that we still want to compete and we still want to be better."

The Denver Nuggets "played like a tired team" in their defeat to the New York Knicks, said head coach Michael Malone.

Denver – who sit third in the Western Conference – were beaten 122-84 in Thursday's road game.

Nikola Jokic had 31 points and 11 rebounds, but the Nuggets could not extend their three-game winning streak.

Thursday's game was the Nuggets' second in the space of 48 hours, and Malone believes the fatigue showed.

"We played like a very tired team," Malone said.

"I thought it was a very disappointing ending to the road trip.

"You never want to get blown out, which is what happened tonight. And we live to fight another day.

"All of our focus right now is getting home, getting some rest tomorrow, and thankful that the NBA gave us a matinee game [against the Philadelphia 76ers] on Saturday."

Jokic took a poke to the eye from Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo during the second quarter.

"It was painful of course, but hopefully it's going to be OK," said the two-time MVP, who added: "[The Knicks] were just more aggressive. One team basically on the floor today. We were not there today."

OG Anunoby led the Knicks with 26 points, and Malone labelled the small forward as "outstanding".

"There's a reason the crowd was chanting 'OG.' He was outstanding," Malone said.

"He brings defense. He brings offense. He brings toughness. He brings physicality.

"He and the rest of the guys in the New York Knicks uniforms tonight, they were terrific from beginning to end."

The Knicks, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference, have won their last five games.

Nikola Jokic displayed just why he is such a stellar talent as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Washington Wizards, so says Michael Malone.

Jokic scored a season-high 42 points, adding 12 rebounds and eight assists, as the Nuggets won 113-104 on Sunday.

It marked Jokic's highest points tally since he scored 46 against the New Orleans Pelicans in June 2022.

The Nuggets are now 30-14 for the season and are third in the Western Conference, and coach Malone was effusive in his praise for the 28-year-old.

"Nikola was phenomenal tonight from beginning to end," Malone said.

"He continues to illustrate why he's the player that he is."

Even though the Nuggets were playing on the road, there were chants of "MVP" from the crowd as Jokic sank his final free throws of the game.

"That's unique," Malone said.

"It doesn't happen very often, so I think it's just recognising greatness.

"Here's a guy who was a two-time MVP as a second-round draft pick that brought a franchise its first world championship in history, and he's a Finals MVP as well."

Despite having lost their last four games in a row, Malone believes the Wizards provided a stern challenge to his team.

He said: "That’s what happens when you're the reigning world champs.

"You have to be up for those games because you know you're going to be getting everybody's best."

Nikola Jokic honoured the memory of his former mentor Dejan Milojevic by starring in the Denver Nuggets' crucial road win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, says coach Michael Malone.

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Milojevic died at the age of 46 on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack, prompting an outpouring of emotion across the NBA.

Before his arrival in San Francisco, Milojevic was credited with kickstarting the career of two-time NBA MVP Jokic when the duo worked together at Belgrade-based team KK Mega Basket.

On Friday, Denver had the daunting task of attempting to halt Boston's 20-0 run at TD Garden this season, and Jokic's 34 points helped them on their way to a huge win over a fellow championship contender.  

Jokic also added 12 rebounds and nine assists while Jamal Murray finished with 35 points as the defending champions improved to 29-14.

Speaking after the game, Nuggets coach Malone expressed pride in Jokic and said the events of recent days made his dominant performance all the more impressive.

"As I mentioned to our team after the game, I couldn't be more proud of Nikola for playing the way he played with the tragic passing of Deki," Malone said. 

"That's what you do, though. That's why I'm proud of Nikola. You just lost somebody that you love and you care about that meant a lot to you, that was a mentor and a coach to you.

"So go honour him. You know what I mean? Nikola went out there, he honoured Deki's memory and his legacy by playing at the level he played at.

"It's not easy to do with a heavy heart, but Nikola is a special person, obviously. It was incredible to watch him play with that heavy heart, when you consider who we were playing and you add everything else to the mix.

"That's why Nikola is the best player in the world."

The Celtics found themselves 98-95 up with just under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but they missed eight of their final nine shots – four of them from Jayson Tatum – to allow the Nuggets back in.

Malone feels the victory amounted to a statement from his team, saying: "You're playing against the best team in the NBA. It was like a playoff game. 

"I know this is only Game 43, 44, whatever it is, but it was kind of like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere and two really good teams. 

"They were in the Finals two years ago. They were in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. They have high hopes, as do we.

"It was a game that we were all in. We put all of our chips in and we were lucky enough to get the outcome that we desired."

Michael Malone revelled in another brilliant display from Nikola Jokic after the Denver Nuggets talisman starred against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds to record his 10th career triple-double against the Pelicans in a 125-113 home victory for Denver on Friday.

The highlight of the two-time MVP's performance was a blind, behind-the-back, over-the-head pass towards the end of the first half, which Aaron Gordon latched onto at the rim.

And coach Malone saw echoes of NBA great Magic Johnson in Jokic's moment of brilliance.

He said: "I didn't imagine the behind-the-back, over-the-head pass.

"When you’re a young kid watching NBA basketball, that's Magic Johnson, that's 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, the guys that just had this pizazz to their game.

"Nikola can beat you a lot of ways and that was definitely one of the best passes I've seen him make."

Jokic explained: "I just saw him for a blink of an eye, and I just wanted to pass to him as soon as I can.

"Because he's open in that moment, not a moment after that. So, that was the quickest way to pass him the ball."

Reflecting on the Nuggets' performance as they bounced back from a defeat to the Utah Jazz, Jokic, who has now had 12 triple-doubles this season and is shooting 79.3 percent over his last eight games, added: "We played a little bit faster, I think.

"We were the ones who were aggressive. We pushed the pace. I think that was the difference."

Zion Williamson scored 30 points for the Pelicans, but New Orleans was left to lament a poor start in which the Nuggets scored 37 points.

Pelicans coach Willie Green said: "They got off to an early start in this building.

"They had a 37-point first quarter to 25, now it's an uphill battle the rest of the game. That's something they do well.

"They get off to early starts and then they played with a lead. We've got to be better starting a game."

The Nuggets (27-13) are third in the Western Conference, four spots ahead of the Pelicans (23-16). Denver has a 16-4 record at home going into their next game against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

Nikola Jokic always knew he was going to make the dramatic buzzer-beating three-pointer which guided the Denver Nuggets to a stunning win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

The Warriors were on the verge of beating the Nuggets for the first time in nearly two years at Chase Center, only for the defending NBA champions to finish with a 25-4 run for a 130-127 win.

The clinching shot came from Jokic with just 3.6 seconds remaining, the two-time MVP hitting an improbable three-pointer from just inside half-court, which sailed over the outstretched arms of Warriors centre Kevon Looney and in.

Jokic had tied the game on a short jumper just 23 seconds earlier, and he finished with 34 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Speaking about his winner after the game, Jokic said: "That was the last option with that play. I just took a shot. I think those shots are the easiest shots to take. You don't have any other options. 

"So actually, when I felt it, I thought, 'oh, I'm going to bank this.' You can see the flight of the ball, and I just knew I was going to bank it."

Denver's win was their eighth in nine games, lifting them to 25-11 and inflicting the Warriors' third loss in the space of four games.

Jokic's game-winning shot came after Jamal Murray made a steal from Stephen Curry with just four seconds on the clock, leading Denver coach Michael Malone to hail his team for their ability to compete physically. 

"They came out in the third quarter very aggressive, and we didn't match that. They had us on our heels," Malone said.

"I said, 'okay, enough is enough. Our backs are against the ball. We have to go now,' and then we became the aggressor. 

"We became the team getting stops, pushing, attacking, we became more physical.

"The most aggressive team is going to win. I felt like when the game was on the line, we were the more aggressive team."

Regarding Jokic's buzzer beater, Malone said the credit belonged entirely to the 2021 and 2022 MVP, adding: "I wish I could tell you [that's how I drew it up]. But that's just a great player making a great play.

"Nikola lives for those moments. It's great and joyful to watch a player of his talent go out there and make the plays that he makes."

The Oklahoma City Thunder condemned the Denver Nuggets to their heaviest defeat of the season but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander still says the defending NBA champions are "the level that you want to get to".

The Nuggets fell to their second defeat by Thunder in the space of two weeks and ended their six-match winning streak after a 119-93 defeat in Denver.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 40 points – his fifth 40-plus game this season and four shy of his career-best set last season – for the Thunder and Chet Holmgren added 24.

A pair of defeats to Oklahoma are Denver's only two in their last 11 games, although Gilgeous-Alexander was quick to credit the Nuggets.

"It's not a fluke they won the championship," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "They're a really good team and we know that every night we play them.

"You get out of bed to play against teams like that knowing they're at the level that you want to get to."

Gilgeous-Alexander also went 14 of 20 from the field and made all 10 of his free-throw attempts.

"He was just cruising. He let the game come to him," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. "It never seemed like he was forcing. Played the right way throughout, made the right passes, and kept them honest.

"It's kind of routine at this point but he played a great game."

Holmgren scored the Thunder's first 10 points of the game and finished with 24, hitting all four attempts from three-point range, and had two blocks.

"He's a threat on the court in so many ways and him drawing that attention only makes it easier for the guys around him, including myself," Gilgeous-Alexander said of his Oklahoma teammate.

Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Nuggets, who were without Aaron Gordon for a second straight game due to hand and facial injuries sustained from dog bites.

Yet Jokic also committed seven turnovers, two shy of his career high.

"You've got to be clean with the ball, you can't play in a crowd," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of the turnovers.

"It's something they do to most teams, but you're not going to give yourself a chance to win when you allow them to play to their strength."

Michael Malone quipped that Nikola Jokic was purely out to defend him after the Denver Nuggets pair were ejected from Monday's game against the Detroit Pistons.

Two-time NBA MVP Jokic and Nuggets head coach Malone were both ejected in the first quarter of Denver's 107-103 win over the struggling Pistons, who have now lost 12 straight games.

Jokic was called for a technical foul for arguing with the officials, before he was tossed for arguing another call in the final two minutes of the quarter.

Malone, meanwhile, was ejected because he went onto the court to dispute a decision.

"I think Nikola was worried about my welfare," Malone joked.

"It is tough to watch a game on TV – we were hugging on good plays and I was cursing in Serbian on the bad ones."

Denver are second in the Western Conference with a 10-4 record for the season.

Michael Malone has agreed to a new contract with the Denver Nuggets, according to reports.

Malone has spent the last eight seasons with Denver, who – along with the help of talisman Nikola Jokic – he guided to the NBA championship last season.

And the two-time NBA All-Star coach is now being rewarded with a new deal.

The 52-year-old has agreed to a contract extension that will make him one of the league's highest-paid coaches.

Malone took over in Denver in 2015 following a stint in charge of the Sacramento Kings, where he took up his first head coaching role. 

He is the fourth-longest-serving coach in the NBA, and has coached the Nuggets for 647 games – trailing only Doug Moe and George Karl in that regard.

Despite losing to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the Nuggets top the Western Conference with an 8-2 record.

Jamal Murray is confident there is more to come from the Denver Nuggets after the franchise's first NBA Finals success.

The Nuggets beat the Miami Heat 94-89 on Monday to secure a 4-1 series win, ending their wait for a championship.

Nikola Jokic, who was named the Finals MVP, starred with 28 points and 16 rebounds, while Murray added 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

After losing Game 2 at home, Denver bounced back with two dominant victories in Miami before rounding off their triumph back in Colorado, and Murray had few doubts the Nuggets would get the job done.

"I knew once we were healthy, we could do it," Murray told ESPN. "So this [championship] was long overdue. I think this is the first of many.

"We clearly can do it, so let's do it again."

There was a similar sentiment from Denver coach Michael Malone, who wants to turn a championship into a dynasty.

He told reporters: "Pat Riley said something many years ago. I used to have it up on my board when I was a head coach in Sacramento.

"It talked about the evolution in this game and how you go from a nobody to an upstart, and you go from an upstart to a winner, and a winner to a contender, and a contender to a champion, and the last step after a champion, is to be a dynasty.

"So we're not satisfied. We accomplished something this franchise has never done before, but we have a lot of young talented players in that locker room, and I think we just showed through 16 playoff wins what we're capable of on the biggest stage in the world."

Two-time NBA MVP Jokic was the star of the show all season for the Nuggets.

The 28-year-old tallied 600 points, 269 rebounds and 190 assists in the postseason. It is the first time any player in the history of the NBA had reached those numbers across a 20-game span (including both regular-season and postseason games).

Jokic also became the first player in NBA history to have 25+ points and 15+ rebounds on 75 per cent shooting in a championship-clinching win.

"The job is done, and we can go home now," Jokic said.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic has "zero interest" in the hype surrounding this year's award.

Jokic is a leading candidate for the 2022-23 MVP award, alongside Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday, a day after Jokic led the Denver Nuggets to a 97-87 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Jokic delivered a performance worthy of an MVP, scoring 39 points and adding 16 rebounds to help Denver take a 2-0 series lead.

But the 28-year-old Serbian is not paying much credence to the speculation over who will claim the prize.

"I don't really think about it. Like zero interest," said Jokic, who is hoping to spend Tuesday recovering.

"Hopefully, it's going to be a sunny day, so I can be in the swimming pool," he quipped.

Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the only other players to have been named an MVP for three seasons running.

"I mean, I cannot think about that, because I cannot control it," Jokic said.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone knows that Jokic is not motivated by individual success.

"I marvel at his greatness, I marvel at his consistency, his excellence, his ability to find so many different ways to beat you, whether it's scoring, rebounding, playmaking, not afraid of the moment," Malone said of Jokic.

"There's so many quality [MVP] candidates, and it'll be a really close race.

"But I know what motivates Nikola Jokic, what motivates myself and the rest of the guys in that locker room, is not the MVP.

"It's our journey to try and win the first championship in franchise history."

After two home wins for the Nuggets, Game 3 in Phoenix takes place on Friday.

The Denver Nuggets are focusing all of their efforts on completing a series sweep over the Minnesota Timberwolves after taking a 3-0 lead on Friday.

Nikola Jokic inspired Denver to a 120-111 win at Target Center in Minnesota to take a huge step towards the Western Conference semi-finals, where the Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Clippers will await.

Reigning back-to-back MVP Jokic posted 20 points (nine-of-13), 12 assists and 11 rebounds in a comprehensive effort against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

It was the seventh triple-double of Jokic's career and played a major role in the Nuggets opening a huge series lead, which they will now hope to turn into their first playoff sweep in franchise history.

That is certainly the aim, though coach Michael Malone accepts the Timberwolves are not going to make it easy on their return to Target Center in Game 4 on Sunday.

"Up 3-0, our mindset right now is – no disrespect to the T-Wolves because this is about us – but we don't want to go back to Denver," he said.

"We know to close out a series a lot of times can be the hardest game. I'm hoping that we can find a way.

"We don't have a mindset of, 'Hey, we can just go back and close it in Denver.' Our mindset should be to close it in Game 4."

It was put to Jokic afterwards that the Nuggets' performance was impressive in part because they did not "need to win", though this mindset clearly did not resonate with the center.

"That's a funny question. We needed to win, we didn't want to give them life, if that makes sense," Jokic said.

"We wanted to be the aggressor. We wanted to punch them first. They need to react to us. That was our plan. I think we did a good job.

"Of course, we expected them to be aggressive and play really good, they were attacking the paint, attacking, attacking. That was their plan, we kind of knew it."

Denver head into Game 4 3-0 up in a series for only the second time, with the first being the 2009 semi-finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

While they could not clinch the sweep on that occasion, they did manage to get the job done in Game 5.

Malone and Jokic will be hoping to go one better this time.

The Denver Nuggets are all but certain to be the number one seed in the West, but Michael Malone does not expect a deep playoff run if his team continue to play as they did on Tuesday.

The Nuggets had the opportunity to clinch the top seed with three games of the regular season remaining, yet instead they lost 124-103 at the Houston Rockets, who are last in the conference.

Denver had won the teams' past 10 meetings, including the previous four by at least 15 points, but struggled even with Nikola Jokic back in the lineup.

Although they are still on course to finish first, theirs is now on course to be the worst record by the number one seed in the West since the 1976-77 Los Angeles Lakers.

And this defeat did not do wonders for Malone's hopes of finally guiding the Nuggets to the NBA Finals.

No team across the United States' four major sports have made more playoff appearances without reaching the championship round. This will be their 29th postseason campaign.

"If that's how we're going to play, we'll be out in the first round," the coach said.

"When we don't do our jobs, there's accountability, and I speak the truth.

"I just called our team 'soft,' and I dared someone to challenge me. No one did, because we as a group were soft tonight.

"I'm not saying we are soft, but tonight, we were."

Indeed, the Nuggets were out-rebounded 55-47, although the Rockets lead the league in average rebound margin.

With the Memphis Grizzlies two games back, the Nuggets have three more opportunities to make sure of top spot, continuing their road trip against the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz before returning home to play the Sacramento Kings.

Nikola Jokic sat out the Denver Nuggets' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans as an "ultra cautious" step to protect the two-time MVP ahead of the NBA playoffs.

The Nuggets were beaten 107-88 and have lost their last four matches in which Jokic did not play. He missed this one with a calf injury that appears to be a minor problem.

On this occasion, Denver turned in a largely shabby display in the home loss, proving especially dire from three-point range where their 4-of-28 shooting pointed to a clear deficiency.

Sitting top of the Western Conference, three games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, Denver could afford to let Thursday's game get away from them.

The playoffs are approaching, so it was a night where coach Michael Malone felt Jokic needed a rest.

When assessing afterwards how the game went so badly wrong for the Nuggets, Malone said: "Well, Nikola didn't play."

 

He expanded on his reasons, but it is clear Jokic's unavailability was a major factor behind the team's performance.

Once again, Jokic is a leading contender for MVP honours, chasing a hat-trick of consecutive individual accolades.

The 28-year-old Serbian is averaging 24.9 points per game, plus 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists, and it looks to be between him and Joel Embiid for MVP, albeit with Giannis Antetokounmpo a potential dark horse.

Malone, quoted in the Denver Post, said before the game began it was a smart move to give Jokic a rest, following his triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the week.

"Yeah, I think it's just been something kind of brewing a little bit," said Malone.

"He was able to get through the Philadelphia game. In practice yesterday he didn't do a whole lot. Obviously, being ultra cautious with where we're at in the season. If there's any doubt, we're going to definitely err on the side of caution with seven games remaining in the regular season."

The Milwaukee Bucks were "grumpy" in Saturday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, but Michael Malone lauded his players for their work in frustrating Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co.

A battle between the top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences ended in a big 129-106 win for the Nuggets in Denver.

It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Bucks, having scored 144 in beating the Utah Jazz on Friday.

Although Antetokounmpo insisted he did not want to make excuses for the defeat, he acknowledged "legs were heavy" and "shots were short".

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer added: "It was a night where we were grumpy. It happens.

"I've got to give credit to Denver. They played well, we weren't our best.

"You always want some things to be a little bit different, but it didn't happen. We'll take it and get ready for the next game."

Antetokounmpo still scored 31 points, but 24 came in the first half. His shooting went cold in the second half, as did Milwaukee's from three-point range, making three of 17 from deep across the third and fourth quarters.

Nuggets coach Malone felt his team – and two players in particular – deserved credit for that turnaround.

"You can't guard Giannis one-on-one, nobody can. He's a great player," Malone said.

"But I felt that Aaron Gordon did everything he could to stifle him – especially in that second half. Giannis was two-for-eight, seven points in the second half.

"Aaron took the challenge head on, but I felt the four guys around Aaron gave the necessary and appropriate help.

"Take Aaron out to start the fourth quarter, I felt Jeff Green picked up right where Aaron left off. Had some great possessions, you have to be into him [Giannis], you have to be physical, and when he drives and spins, you want to be there to clamp down on that drive.

"When we out-rebound our opponent, we win; when we value the ball, we usually win; it's a hell of a performance.

"The three-point line I was worried about most – they were nine-of-36, 25 per cent. So, I thought the defense overall was just outstanding."

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