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No Joke, Nets fans, Jokic is very good

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

That Bucks loss was not a shock. The Nets are depleted, tired, and ready for the All-Star break. It’s hard being the best team in the NBA for a whole month! The three-game losing streak Brooklyn is currently on is their longest since they lost eight straight in late November and early December which is impressive in its own right. The Nets are still the sixth seed, albeit by a smaller margin than they were a week ago, and seem ready for either the return of Caris LeVert or a trade or both.

Their next opponent, the Denver Nuggets, are kind of like the Bucks of the West. For much of the season they’ve been the first seed before recently falling behind the seemingly rejuvenated Warriors, and they’re built around a single shining star with a lot of pieces around him that make sense and work together to form a strong, cohesive unit. It’s not going to be an easy one. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30 pm, ET. It’s a home game.

Injuries

Caris LeVert (foot), Spencer Dinwiddie (thumb) and Jared Dudley (hamstring) are out. Allen Crabbe (knee) is back. Yay. Joe Harris (hip) will play in this one, too. Yay again.

LeVert could be back quite possibly before the All-Star break, and that’s such an exciting thought that I barely even have words. Just, wow. LeVert and Crabbe were both assigned to Long Island and pronounced ready. Crabbe is just more ready (readier?). In the 13 games before he went down with an injury, Crabbe was shooting 48% from three. The Nets need some of that back right about now.

Paul Millsap (ankle) Gary Harris (groin) Jamal Murray (ankle) Michael Porter (back) and Isiah Thomas (hip) are all injured and likely to miss this one.

It’s also possible that some players will be traded before game time and new players won’t be ready to assume their spots.

The Game

Towards the end of the game against the Bucks, when the blowout was imminent, the Nets ran out a lineup entirely made up of guys who had played in the G-League for them this season. Dzanan Musa, Theo Pinson, Rodions Kurucs, Mitch Creek, and Alan Williams all got some run and it was honestly kind of cool. Musa in particular really needed some time on an NBA court since the last time we saw him playing in a Nets uniform was December 1. At just 19, he’s had something of a tumultuous rookie year so far due to the injuries and the nature of being up-and-down between the NBA and the G-League, but the Nets still see him as an important asset for this team going forward. Glad to see him back on the court.

How young is he? Other than being the NBA’s seventh youngest player? He won’t turn 21 until May of 2020.

The Nuggets, who are pretty young in their own right, are anchored by a singular and unique talent in Nikola Jokic. I’d make him my player to watch, but I don’t want to wait that long to talk about him. Jokic is an absolute monster, 7-feet tall and 250 pounds, with one of the craziest skill sets for a big man we’ve ever seen in the NBA. He scores 20.1 points per game while pulling in 10.4 rebounds while shooting 50/30/84 while, while, while.

Impressive and good, but not shocking. What makes basketball fans do double takes and their eyes pop out of their head to an awooga sound effect is Nikola’s preternatural ability to pass like a wizard. Like a warlock. Like he knows where everyone is at all times and understands the exact angle and velocity at which to throw the ball in order for it to land in his teammates hands at exactly the right spot at exactly the right moment. It’s insane.

Jokic would be one of the best passers in the league if he were a point guard. But the dude is a center and he drops dimes like he’s Steve Nash. He also put up a ridiculous 37 point, 21 rebound performance against the Nets in Denver earlier this season. The Nets won anyway. Regardless, Jarrett Allen is going to have his hands full.

Let’s talk about DeMarre Carroll now, who over his last 19 games is averaging 13.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 28.1 minutes while continuing to be one of the Nets most versatile and useful defenders. He’s the kind of wing that half the teams in the league want to trade for right now. His rehab with the Nets, spanning two seasons now since the trade for him occurred, is remarkable.

The Nets took him on as a dead-money contract in order to secure future picks (Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, thanks Masai!!) and he’s become not only an important rotation player but potentially a legitimate asset as an expiring contract. Good for DeMarre and good for Kenny.

The Nuggets are deep, and the list of guys on their roster including currently injured players that are either good, great, or assets long-term. Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Trey Lyles, Juan Hernangomez, and even the injured and unproven Michael Porter Jr. could end up being another name to add to the list.

It’s really wild just how many quality NBA players they have on their roster and even crazier how many of them aren’t even 25 yet. Sticking with my recent theory of “Teams That Play Each Other Close To The Deadline Are More Likely To Trade With Each Other”, watch out for Trey Lyles. He has the exact skill set at the exact size the Nets are missing and need, he’s on the last year of his rookie deal, and it wouldn’t take a ton to get him. Could be a guy to watch out for.

Player To Watch

For reasons inexplicable to even myself, I have a huge soft spot for second-year point guard Monte Morris. He’s the Nuggets backup point guard and is a game-managing, low-turnovers kind of point guard. He knows how to play good basketball. In his last nine games, fpur of which he’s started in the absence of Jamal Murray, Morris is averaging 14.9 points and 4 assists per game while shooting 62 percent from the field and 52 percent from three. Those percentages are unsustainable sure, but they’re also partially a result of his good shot selection. He’s a smart basketball player and a great counterpart point guard to Jokic.

Point guards usually take a long time to develop. It’s tough adjusting to the pace of the league while also being responsible for playmaking responsibilities against seasoned veterans who’ve been doing it for years. Plus, when teams game-plan during the regular season, it’s easier on a game-to-game basis to focus some scouting against the other teams point guards than say, your Kevin Knox’s or your Rodions Kurucs’. Shut down the point guard shut down the offense. So shouts to Morris, who after spending 4 years at Iowa State preparing for this role, is turning the ball over just 0.7 times per game. He won’t be easy to disrupt.

From The Vault

The Jokic passing game is for real. He’s a delight, check it out for yourselves.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Denver Stiffs, our Nuggets sister site on SB Nation.