Jamal Murray's season-ending injury was seen as a crushing blow to the Denver Nuggets, who had just begun to play their best ball of the year after the Aaron Gordon acquisition. The other foot dropping on championship dreams may be inevitable but early returns suggest you're going to have to take the wheel from Nikola Jokic's formidable and adroit paws.
Denver has won all three games since the bad news to climb within two games of the No. 3 seed, currently held by the Los Angeles Clippers. They are 2.5 games ahead of the struggling Los Angeles Lakers and should get homecourt advantage if they can keep the train on the tracks down the stretch.
With Murray out, it's become even more incumbent on Jokic to ply his MVP talents night in and night out. Over the last two games he's totaled 76 points, 31 rebounds, and 15 assists, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players over the last three decades to tally 75-30-15 in back-to-back games.
That's pretty solid. And it's a sign the door is still a bit ajar for Jokic to cement himself as a legend and carry this team to the Finals and perhaps to the ultimate mountaintop. Bet against him at your own risk because this season has been a study in breaking down doubters one by one.
Jokic is averaging 26.4 points. His previous high was 20.1. He's snaring 11.1 rebounds. His previous high was 10.8. He's dishing out 8.8 assists. His previous high was 7.3. This seems like it would have to be his ceiling.
But what if it isn't? What if there's something to improve upon after leading the league in PER, win share, and VORP?
it's trite to remind people that they forget things, but people actually forget Jokic was selected 41st overall. And certainly more people have forgotten that his selection was unceremoniously counter-programmed opposite a Taco Bell commercial.
Is this motivation for Jokic? Is he driven to show that there's power in thinking outside the bun? Does the complexity of the seven-layer burrito inspire him to do a bit of everything on the court?
Is it fun to remember that the likely MVP entered the league with no ceremony, pomp or circumstance?
To me, yes. Yes, it is.
Neutral observers are in for a real treat this spring as he tries to will Denver further than they have any business going. With a Western Conference appearing more open, anything is possible.