Thursday, January the 26th, the Nuggets took on the Phoenix Suns at home in Denver, CO. With 1:47 left to go in the fourth quarter, Suns guard Devin Booker drives into the lane and the unimaginable happens. The Pepsi Center crowd goes silent as Nikola Jokic goes down and is refusing to get up while holding his left hip. With the help of his teammates and staff, Jokic leaves the game and does not return. The Nuggets went on to win the game 127-120 but the victory was short lived and bittersweet. Thoughts of falling out of the eighth seed flushed through the minds of Denver fans in an instant and all hope seems to be lost. That is until Saturday’s Jokicless rematch.
Though Denver was behind the entire first half, the Nuggets again prevailed, not with a flashy youngster but with ol’ reliable Danilo Gallinari. Ever since Nikola Jokic came back to the starting five, the ball just gravitated towards him whether it was running the fast break, hitting the three, or posting up and hitting an easy bank in. Jokic was even dishing out beautiful assists that made him look like a 6’11 playmaking guard. With Jokic out, how could we possibly win anymore? Night after night it seemed Jokic was setting himself new season highs one after another and truly driving the Nuggets’ offense but can the Nuggets actually hold onto the eighth seed while the big guy is out with an injury?
Don’t get me wrong, Jokic is a valuable part of the winning equation but let us not forget the talented team around him, especially veteran forward Danilo Gallinari. In the rematch against the Suns, Gallo scored 32 points and grabbed 8 boards with only 1 turnover. Kenneth Faried and Jamal Murray were also helpful that night with a combined total of 39 points but Gallo was the one to make a statement. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is Gallo’s best offensive scheme. If you are one of the league’s leading free throw shooter, might as well attack the basket and draw the foul which is exactly what he did. Gallo was perfect from the free throw line that night hitting all 11 of his free throws. Gallo also showed off his range nailing 3 out of his 5 threes.
Nikola Jokic is a top ten center in the league right now but Denver can not be starstruck with all the Jokic buzz going around right now. The eighth seed is still a close race and the Nuggets must keep the momentum rolling even without Jokic. Gallo will not go quietly into the night and neither will the rest of the Nuggets. The team’s veterans deserve a long awaited playoff run and the rooks could use some playoff experience. Every Nugget player, that is healthy, will step up in the absence of Jokic but expect Gallinari to play a major role in Tuesday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers and more games down the road if the rising star center does not return. Hopefully Jokic’s injury isn’t too serious and is able to make a quick recovery.