Nuggets Jazz Basketball

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic shoots against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.

It might be a good time for Michael Malone to strap on a smartwatch.

“Every time I take him out, I hold my breath,” the Nuggets coach said Thursday. “If you see me passing out tomorrow night and Nikola (Jokic) doesn’t play, somebody come help me. Don’t laugh.”

Jokic is officially listed as questionable with a right knee contusion after bumping into Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the second quarter of Tuesday’s loss. Jokic has no structural damage, Malone confirmed, but did not practice Thursday. Denver’s star center was on the Ball Arena court when media was allowed in at the end of practice, but was wearing sandals. It sounds like Malone and the Nuggets will play it safe.

“There’s going to be no pressure. If he’s not feeling comfortable tomorrow, the training staff says they’re not comfortable with him playing, I’m going to go with their decision,” Malone said. “I think I’m a really smart guy, but I have no clue about the health and status of a body. Nikola – and all of our players for that matter – their long-term health is always important and on our minds. If he’s not comfortable, he’s not confident, we’re not going to put him out there.”

Through 3 ½ games this season, Jokic is backing up last season’s Most Valuable Player award in style. After posting 24 points, six rebounds and six assists on 8-of-9 shooting in 15 minutes Tuesday, he’s averaging 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 67.7% from the field. Still, the Nuggets are 2-2 entering Friday’s game against Dallas. With Luka Doncic, a popular pick to be the next MVP, coming to town Friday, the Nuggets spent Thursday’s Jokic-less practice focusing on defense. Malone cited a stat that Utah, Cleveland and San Antonio – Denver’s previous three opponents – averaged 57 points in the paint per game.

“That’s coming in transition. That’s coming off dribble penetration. That’s coming off pick and rolls,” Malone said. “So that’s not just Nikola Jokic. That’s everybody.”

Will Barton III said that was the main emphasis in Thursday’s practice.

“I feel like if our approach is to come out with defense, be ready to fly around, make it tough for those guys, I feel like it will put us in a good position to win with or without Nikola,” Barton said. “But it has to start from the beginning.”

Malone would breathe easier if Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris built on their respective performances against Utah, but added that it’s on the entire team to step up if Jokic is unavailable. That includes the bench, something PJ Dozier seems to understand.

“He’s our leader. He’s the head of the snake, and he has the ball in his hands most of the time, so if he goes down, we all got to step up, but we all got to fill in our roles,” Dozier said. “Just be a star in our role, we’re not going to fill those shoes. Just like when Jamal went down, we all just got to step up and be a star in our role.”

Dozier said the team had a collective sigh of relief when Jokic walked off the court Tuesday under his own power. Whether that means Malone can breathe easy for Friday’s game against Dallas and Saturday’s game in Minnesota is to-be determined.

“You want to try to minimize the damage,” Malone said. “So if he misses a game or two or three or four games now, in the long run maybe it’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Denver Nuggets lose to Utah Jazz after Nikola Jokic leaves with knee injury
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