Nuggets think big in wake of stinging Game 7 loss
AP Sports Writer
DENVER — Things Nikola Jokic needs to improve on in the offseason: “Is there anything?” the Denver Nuggets big man joked.
Hard to find many glitches in his game right now.
By all measures, Jokic and the youthful Nuggets are ahead of schedule despite the sting of a Game 7 loss at home to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. No one predicted the Nuggets being the two seed in the West this season. After all, they hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 2013.
And few projected the meteoric rise of Jokic, the 24-year-old with the awkward gait who sees the game with a point guard’s vision. The 7-footer averaged 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists in his first foray into the postseason.
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“You’re supposed to be sad,” Jokic said of the season coming to a close. “But at the end of the day we had a good season.”
Soon, Jokic will head home to Serbia as he turns his focus from hoops to his horses. It’s his way of escaping from a Game 7 in which the Nuggets surrendered a 17-point lead to the Trail Blazers. This after knocking off San Antonio in seven games during the first round.
“Winning is really fun. We won one series against San Antonio that was really tough and fun,” said Jokic, who posted four triple-doubles during the playoffs. “We had a really good series against Portland. It was fun. But we didn’t win.”
One of the bigger decisions looming for Denver is what to do with Paul Millsap, who at 34 is the old-timer on a youthful Nuggets team. His future in the Mile High City could be uncertain given that he’s due $30 million should the team pick up his option. Asked if the Nuggets might be his best chance at winning an NBA title, the veteran power forward turned into a comedian.
“I could go to the Golden State Warriors,” he cracked Monday as the Nuggets cleaned out their lockers.
There’s always that. Only, Millsap envisions grand things for a Nuggets team that opened many eyes.
“That’s what makes this year so special — this team was doubted throughout the whole year. We couldn’t do this. We couldn’t do that. We’re not good enough. We’re too young. Blah. Blah. Blah,” Millsap said. “We’ve proved everybody wrong.”
The Nuggets boast a talented tandem in point guard Jamal Murray and Jokic. They also have a deep bench that was solid all season, before struggling at times throughout the playoffs.
Denver could be an attractive destination for some free agent. More specifically, a perimeter shooter. Denver was 2 of 19 from 3-point range in the finale against Portland.
“Not one team is perfect, but I think we have a great group of guys,” Jokic said. “I don’t know what we need more, because we were winning games. We were beating everybody. So I don’t know what else we can add. I really like the group of guys.”
Michael Porter Jr. said he expects to play in the summer league after sitting out all season following back surgery. Porter was the 14th overall pick in the draft last summer.
“The way I feel now, it’s leaps and bounds beyond where I thought I’d be at this point,” Porter said.
Gary Harris has made arrangements to visit Jokic in Serbia. If any other teammate wants to stop by as well, just remember one thing.
“It’s my place. The people love me there,” Jokic said. “I don’t want some (of them) to come and take my crown.”
Murray was mum on whether he would play for Canada in the FIBA World Cup in China this summer. Jokic was still contemplating if he would suit up for Serbia. As for Juancho Hernangomez, he’s hoping to play for Spain.
“I’m with my idols so it’s going to be fun,” Hernangomez said.
It was a roller-coaster year for guard Will Barton, who had right hip/core muscle surgery early in the season, struggled at times with his jumper and was moved to the bench during the playoffs.
“Just tough season for me mentally, physically, everything,” Barton said. “But that’ll motivate me as usual.”
The Nuggets are taking a page from the Warriors, whose squad lost in the 2013-14 postseason before going on a title binge.
“Everybody wants to win the championship,” guard Monte Morris said. “But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like experience.”
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