Nuggets 99, Pelicans 98: Nikola Jokic proves again why he's the NBA MVP frontrunner

Jan. 24—Nuggets 99, Pelicans 98

What happened: The best start in franchise history through 48 games: 34-14. Nikola Jokic, the MVP frontrunner again, logged an NBA-leading 15th triple-double (25 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) and the Nuggets increased their lead on the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. But throw some credit to the Nuggets bench, even though it needs a boost at the trade deadline. The four reserves played positive plus-minus minutes when they were on the floor. Maybe that's a wake-up call for Bones Hyland, a key reserve who didn't play at Smoothie King Center reportedly due to injury. The Nuggets built a 19-point lead and hung on for a 10th win in 11 games.

What went right: Jokic returned after missing two games with a bum hamstring. Michael Malone returned after a four-game hiatus in COVID protocols (again). But it wasn't Denver's high-powered offense that carried it to an insurmountable lead. Denver's defense smothered the Pelicans, a solid squad in the mix for a top-four seed in the Western Conference. All the stuff your JV coach emphasized — close-outs, help defense, hand up — were Nuggets staples, especially with reserves Christian Braun and Zeke Nnaji. Talk about a missed-you gift for Malone, who daydreams in a defensive stance.

What else to know: It's bigger than basketball, and the tragedy that struck the University of Denver community and Michael Porter Jr.'s family is going to affect the Nuggets. DU basketball player Coban Porter was charged with vehicular homicide and reckless driving last weekend. The Denver Gazette's Carol McKinley reported a 42-year-old woman was killed. Bless her family. Coban is very close with his brother, MPJ. (MPJ didn't play in New Orleans.) Here's a hunch the Nuggets grant MPJ all the time that's necessary as a big brother.

Up next: The Nuggets play at Milwaukee at 6 pm Wednesday (Altitude TV). Jokic and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo own the past four MVP awards, and The Denver Gazette's Vinny Benedetto will be there at Fiserv Forum.

—Paul Klee, The Denver Gazette