Nuggets news: Mike Malone makes MVP case for Nikola Jokic following game-winner vs. Mavs
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Nuggets’ Mike Malone makes MVP case for Nikola Jokic once again, following game-winner vs. Mavs

Mike Malone, Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone made Nikola Jokic’s MVP case after some late-action heroics against the Dallas Mavericks, sealing a 100-99 win with a 10-foot floater over Dwight Powell to carry his team to a win as time expired.

“Nikola’s tired, man. He’s been carrying this team all season,” said Malone, according to Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. “For us to be where we are, second in the West and a game behind Golden State, Nikola is an MVP candidate, and he’s wearing the weight of that in terms of the games and us going to him.”

Jokic finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists — a modest performance by his standards, but enough to warrant a win down the stretch in a close game — all while fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Following a recent skid, the Nuggets have now won three of their last four games, and Jokic has been the one constant putting them in position to challenge for the West’s crown.

The Joker was only 4-of-9 from the field, uncharacteristic for the team’s leading scorer, but perhaps proving to be his best asset as a player — never concerned about the bulk of his involvement, as long as he’s pushing his team to a victory. All four of his field goals made came in the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets needed it the most.

“Heavy is the head,” Malone said. “To whom much is given, much is expected, and we expect a lot from Nikola. He delivers 99 out of 100 nights at a high level. Where I’m proud of him tonight is maybe he wasn’t playing his best game — third quarter he made some great passes, but wasn’t really looking to score — but in the fourth quarter he turned the switch. For me, that’s a sign of maturity, knowing, ‘You know what? As I look down this bench, it’s my turn. I’ve got to put this team on my back.’ And he did that tonight, like he’s done all season long.”

Jokic’s chances at the MVP are rather slim with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Paul George likely taken center stage in the race, but his progress as an up-and-coming star is undoubtedly of MVP-caliber for this team.