MVP numbers guaranteed
The Denver Nuggets are 32-25 and sixth in the West by the grace of Nikola Jokic. There's no one who’s single-handedly responsible for the success of their team more than Jokic has been this season. He should be leading all MVP discussions by a mile.
This is going to be a problem for Golden State. The Warriors have been successful themselves this season, maintaining second place in the West with a 42-16 record. The Splash Bros are just getting their act back together, so the Warriors are still far from their peak form. But they have no one to guard Nikola Jokic.
With all due respect to Kevon Looney and Juan Toscano-Anderson, they don’t have the size or the bona fides to stop the prospective two-time MVP. Even with Draymond Green, Jokic could easily have his way against the Warriors’ frontline with the way he’s playing now.
Without Green, there’s no one stopping Jokic from dropping a triple-double and maybe going for 40 points. The Warriors have struggled this season against teams with imposing centers like Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. They’re rare now, but the odd low-post center generally has a good time against the Dubs. The Nuggets already have a win against the Warriors this season when Jokic gathered 22 points and 19 rebounds against them in late December.
Still, the Warriors have every means to not let this game get out of hand. Steph Curry has been returning to his normal efficient level recently. He’s still far from where he was to start the season, but Curry doesn’t have to worry about any threatening defenders against Denver. He should be able to find as much space as he can sprint to tomorrow.
As the All-Star Game nears, we can’t be sure about the availability of both teams’ stars as they might opt to rest before flying to Cleveland. Regardless, this game should be the one you’re tuning into tomorrow.
The NBA’s telenovela
This season has proven that the Los Angeles Lakers have top billing in the NBA, regardless of their record. The Lakers are 26-31, barely hanging on to a Play-In spot in the West, and a lot of headlines recently have revolved around their struggles even with all the craziness of the trade deadline.
The Lakers are a mess of a basketball team. They have two stars playing at a relatively high level in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Around them is a hodgepodge of a squad that doesn’t fill in their weaknesses. On some nights, the Lakers can’t buy a shot from deep. Almost every night, the Lakers can’t get a big defensive stop. Is this Russell Westbrook’s fault? Not totally, but that shouldn’t matter for a team with two stars and a lot of veterans with playoff experience.
Tomorrow, the Lakers take on the Utah Jazz, who have experienced some drama of their own. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert squabbling over roles isn’t as sensational as a once-great franchise disintegrating, but Utah has had to deal with some things internally as well.
The Jazz are still in a good position in the West at fourth with a 36-21 record. It’s far from their dominant form last year and that’s where their panic lies. If they can’t get back to the same level of cohesion as last season when they got bounced in the second round of the playoffs, what is it going to take for them to finally make the leap this season? That’s not going to be answered by a single game in February, but it could push things in the right direction.
This game could very likely end up with the Jazz overwhelming the Lakers as Utah plays the zippy, ball movement-heavy system that the Lakers have struggled to defend this season. It also could prove to be a statement game for the King and his crew. Time is running out on the Lakers. Can they achieve the turnaround that they promised their fans?