For the Denver Nuggets, December 14, 2015 seems like an eternity ago. That is the last time they beat the Houston Rockets.
Oddly, the Denver Nuggets beat the Rockets all three times they played them in the ’15-16 season. In that December game, the Nuggets were led by Will Barton‘s 23 points off the bench. Joffrey Lauvergne grabbed 11 boards and Jameer Nelson and Danilo Gallinari both handed out seven assists. Nikola Jokic scored 9 points off the bench behind starter Lauvergne. Gary Harris had 21 and Ty Lawson scored two for the Rockets. New Nuggets coach Michael Malone brought his team to a 10-14 record with the win in Denver.
How things have changed. From that point, Houston rattled off nine straight wins versus the Nuggets, most of them blowouts. Houston remains Denver’s nemesis and one of the reasons the Nuggets don’t get more national recognition. Blowout losses to Houston and Golden State have damaged the otherwise stellar start (36-15) for the Nugs.
December 2015 reserve Nikola Jokic is now NBA All-Star and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. His oh-so-close line of 31/13/9 is what we’ve come to expect of the Serbian phenom. Jokic is so good that people don’t really know how to react to him. He’s not a leaper so they think he’s not athletic. Jokic’s soft touch with both hands around the basket reminds of boxer Lennox Lewis who devastated the heavyweight division with incredible power from both hands. When Nikola wants to prove a point in the post, he can not be stopped. Questions about his defensive ability have largely subsided, he’s not a rim protector but he’s smart and judicious with his abilities. He leads the Nuggets in steals.
Jokic is already the best player in Nuggets history, he’s been the best player on the floor in most games he’s played this year. Friday night was no different, Nikola’s steady production paced the Nuggets, as it most often does. He was better than James Harden who looked ridiculous and selfish trying to get his 30 while his team was down 20. That’s a tale for another day, though, it’s no secret what Harden’s gig is and what fans outside of Houston feel about it and him.
We know what we have with Nikola and the shower of MVP chants coming from the Pepsi Center are not just wishful thinking. Friday night was about something else, though. With Jamal Murray missing his fourth game and Gary Harris once again unable to play, Houston’s streak seemed likely to continue.
So, here are the three factors that carried the Nuggets to their 136-122 (83 points in the first half?!?!?) win over the Rockets: