The Denver Nuggets were supposed to be the main contenders — along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers — for Western Conference dominance.
Then they started 1-4.
Then they went on an 11-4 run, and seemingly righted the ship.
Then, they lost three straight, and were sitting at 12-11, in 7th place in the conference, before seemingly (and hopefully) righting the ship last night in their blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. All told though, and despite an ongoing historic year from Nikola Jokic — more on him in a moment — the Nuggets have, quite simply, been flailing.
As a result, Colorado’s sportsbooks are starting to sour a bit on the team. Pre-season, DraftKings had them at +2000 to win the NBA championship; that number has grown to +2200. They entered the season +1000 to win the conference, now they’re +1100, and the Utah Jazz have leapfrogged them for the No. 3 spot. Most ugly, however, are their odds to win the Northwest Division; as recently as Christmas, they were -135 to win the division. Today, on DraftKings, they are +350, with the surging Jazz at -500.
Yep. You might say the first third of the season hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
Jokic is no joke
But it hasn’t stopped Nikola Jokic from having a near one-of-a-kind season.
In fact, according to numbers crunched via StatHead.com by Jack Huntley of TheStrick.land, a New York Knicks-centric site, if the season had ended Wednesday, Jokic would be one of two NBA players to average 22 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and have a three-point shooting average above 39%. The other, as it happens to be, is another player having an all-world season, the Knicks’ Julius Randle.
Players in NBA history to average >22 PPG, >11 RPG, >5 APG, and >39% from three:
Nikola Jokic so far this season.
Julius Randle so far this season.
Take the 3P% down to 35% – 17-18 Cousins gets in. Down to 30% – Giannis and Barkley get in. That's it.
— Jack Huntley (@Knicks_Nuance) February 8, 2021
Jokic’s early season run of triple-doubles has subsided, but he’s been on a scoring tear, putting up over 20 points in each of the last 11 games.
And the sportsbooks have noticed.
Jokic began the year at +2200 to win the NBA MVP award at FOXBet; that number has been bet all the way down to +450, tied with Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and just below Lebron James +225.
Big game against the Lakers
So is there hope for the Nuggets to turn things around? Well, one big test is coming Valentine’s Day, when they host the Lakers (this game is also part of a major DraftKings promo, where if one point is scored in the contest — literally — bettors can double their winnings, with a $25 max bet). Of course, these two teams met Feb. 3 in Los Angeles, and the results were … underwhelming, with the Lakers trouncing the Nuggets 114-93.
The game was all the more disappointing, owning to the fact Denver was winning 58-46 at the half.
The Nuggets followed up that game with less-than-inspired losses to the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks before their win last night. Friday they’ll host the Oklahoma City Thunder before the showdown with Los Angeles.
Wheel and deal for Beal?
Of course, there is one other item Nuggets fans are keeping a close eye on: The March 25 trade deadline.
Will the Nuggets break up their young core of talented, yet unproven players like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol? Will they dish their future first round picks? Will they decide to pull the plugs and go for it all this year?
Basically, will they decide to put together a monster package for Bradley Beal, who, while not requesting a trade (yet) has been vocal about the Washington Wizards on-court play?
For Nuggets fans, Beal may be the holy grail this year, but prying him away from the Wizards will take some doing.
In the meantime, Jokic will continue to attempt to single-handedly drag this team to the playoffs, and, while he’s at it, set some lofty NBA records.