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#pounditSaturday, January 22, 2022

Nikola Jokic

Dwight Howard used psychological warfare against Nikola Jokic

Dwight Howard

Nikola Jokic wasn’t quite the same monster in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers as he was the series before against the Clippers. Dwight Howard thinks a lot of that has to do with the mental games he played with his opponent.

Howard joined Etan Thomas’ podcast “The Rematch” for an interview and talked about the tactics he used to get in Jokic’s head.

“Well, the crazy part about it is that we were all staying in the same hotel,” Howard said, via Lakers Daily. “For me, I just felt like it was mental warfare and I wanted to get in his head in any way possible. Their meal room was actually across the hallway from our meal room. So we saw them every day and I would go in there and I would speak to everybody. And every time I saw the (Jokic), I would be like, ‘You ready for the game tonight? You ready for tonight?’”

Howard shared with Thomas the reason why he wanted to mess with Jokic.

“I was just trying to get in his head because I think he’s a really good player and sometimes the battle is won off the court,” Howard said. “That was the biggest thing — I just wanted to get in his head. I knew he was a key for them to win the championship and he got them there. So, my thing was to be physical with him. Get in his head and push him around a little bit.”

Howard believes that his work was done after the second game of the Western Conference Finals. By then, he had already established himself with Jokic and messed with the Nuggets big man enough where he could tone down the talking.

“Every time I stood up on the bench, he was looking over there. Every time he got ready to go into the game, I would run to the scorer’s table just to tell him, ‘Hey, every time you get in, I’m right here with you.’ And it worked out great for our team and also myself. It was very tough because that was a different role for me, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn from that and it worked out well.”

Jokic averaged 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in the Nuggets’ series against the Jazz. He averaged 24.4 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game against the Clippers. But against the Lakers, Jokic averaged 21.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He and the Nuggets were probably gassed after coming back to beat the Clippers in seven games, but maybe Howard’s strong play had a little bit to do with Jokic not dominating to quite the same extent.

Even with Howard being a self-anointed Jokic stopper, that wasn’t enough for the Lakers to bring him back. They slow-played Howard, so the center ended up signing with Philadelphia.

Dirk Nowitzki offers high praise for Nikola Jokic

Dirk Nowitzki

Count Dirk Nowitzki as a big fan of Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic.

Jokic has been compared to Nowitzki in some circles as a skilled big man who can score from anywhere and break down opposing defenses. Nowitzki is flattered by the comparison, but suggested Jokic might be even better than he was in some aspects.

“Damn. That’s a compliment,” Nowitzki said of comparisons to Jokic via text to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “I wish I had his skill set. His passing is so good it’s a joke. I unfortunately always wanted to score and not pass.”

It’s funny, and Nowitzki is being his usual understated self. Still, there’s obviously a healthy degree of admiration here. Jokic has had a breakout postseason, and people like Nowitzki are taking notice — if they hadn’t already.

Nowitzki will keep shying away from the comparisons. He’s a pretty humble guy, after all.

Nikola Jokic had great joke for Nuggets head coach

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic had a great joke for his head coach Michael Malone prior to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.

Tuesday marked Malone’s 49th birthday. Jokic joked after his team’s series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Clippers that he promised Malone a gift either way.

“Before the game I told him, ‘Coach, I am going to give you a really good present. I am going to get you home or I am going to get you a Western Conference Finals,'” Jokic said.

He’s right: either way, Malone was going to be a winner.

Being in the NBA Bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. for several weeks no doubt wore on those involved. The moment any participant can go home probably feels like a big relief. But the even better prize was coming back to beat the Clippers and reach the conference finals.

Most of the focus (and the harsh jokes) have been on the Clippers, but the Nuggets deserve recognition for their series comeback and achievement … and for Jokic’s jokes.

Gregg Popovich has flattering player comparison for Nikola Jokic

Gregg Popvich is officially a believer in the Church of Nikola Jokic.

Speaking on Wednesday after his San Antonio Spurs fell to the Denver Nuggets, Popovich offered a rather flattering player comparison for Jokic.

“He’s a reincarnation of Larry Bird,” said Popovich of the Nuggets All-Star big man, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Jokic dropped 25 points, four rebounds, and 11 assists in the win over the Spurs. He is indeed somewhat reminiscent of Bird for his passing ability for his size as well as his unique ability as a three-level scorer.

While the compliment is obviously some very high praise from Popovich, who has seen many decades worth of elite talents on the basketball court, we probably know of a slightly better reincarnation of Larry Legend out there.

Nikola Jokic not telling reporters exactly how much he weighs

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic’s weight has been a topic of interest among basketball fans over the past few months, but he’s not eager to make it a continual piece of conversation.

A photo of Jokic looking slimmer while attending an exhibition game in Europe went viral in June. Prior to that, Denver’s team president raved about Jokic’s fitness.

Jokic emerged from quarantine in the NBA Bubble in Orlando on Tuesday, and reporters got a chance to see him. They noticed he appeared to be in better shape than when he played.

Jokic said last year he preferred playing at around 275-280 pounds. As for his current weight? He didn’t disclose it and prefers to keep it that way.

Despite all the talk, Jokic says he’s only 3-5 pounds off of his weight when the season was suspended in March. The 25-year-old is averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game for the Nuggets this season. The team will be the No. 3 seed in the West when the season resumes.

Jokic is not the only star player to lose weight during the time off.

Most crucial questions facing Western Conference’s elite

Anthony Davis Lakers

The NBA is gearing up for a return next month, and the expectation is that we will have playoff basketball. As the Western Conference’s elite teams prepare for the return of the season, we take a look at the most critical question that will define each team’s chances at contending for a championship.

(You can find the biggest questions facing the Eastern Conference’s top teams here)

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Nuggets president raves about Nikola Jokic’s fitness

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic is one of the heaviest players in the NBA today, but he may be pulling up to Orlando looking like a changed man.

Speaking this week with Altitude Sports Radio, Denver Nuggets president Tim Connelly raved about Jokic’s improved fitness during the league’s hiatus.

“He showed up in great shape,” said Connelly, per Eurohoops. “He’s sitting there. He sent me a picture. No shirt on. He’s got abs. I’ve never seen him have abs before. He’s beach ready. He has abs.”

Nuggets teammate Jamal Murray also commented on the All-Star big man’s new physique in a conference call with reporters on Friday.

“Hey, Joker got a little four pack,” said Murray, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I love it … Remember probably [my] second year [2017-18] how skinny Joker was. You could start to see him put on the weight. He put on a lot more and then he took it, just like, it’s just gone. He took it all the way out. It is kind of weird to see him like this where he is a lot more athletic, moving a lot better.”

Jokic, who is listed officially at 284 pounds, has already proven to be an elite, versatile talent despite being largely ground-bound. He was leading Denver in points (20.9), rebounds (10.2), and assists per game (6.9) this season and carries much of their title hopes along with him.

While Jokic is nicknamed “Big Honey” and has heard some jokes about his large frame, a slimmed-down figure could make it harder for opposing teams to attack him in the pick-and-roll. It may also give true centers more difficulty guarding Jokic on offense and ultimately make the Nuggets a very tough out come playoff time.

From LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard: the front court players most deserving of All-NBA

LeBron James

The selections for All-NBA forwards and centers present an interesting dilemma, as they strictly adhere to a two forward, one center format. In today’s position-less pace-and-space era of the NBA, it seems antiquated to require one center per All-NBA team. With the game speeding up and a premium being placed on spacing, there is a significant decrease in demand for traditional centers. Teams like the Houston Rockets don’t even believe in playing a center.

The NBA recognized this shift in basketball ideology by removing positions from the frontcourt of the All-Star ballot and allowing for three frontcourt players of any position to be named a starter. While this was a step in the right direction, no changes have been made to the format of the All-NBA teams, resulting in less deserving players on the All-NBA teams simply due to their position.

With that caveat in mind, here are my selections for the All-NBA forwards and centers. (You can see my 2020 All-NBA guards here)

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Michael Malone refuses to blame Nikola Jokic for Nuggets’ loss

Nikola Jokic

The Denver Nuggets suffered a difficult season-ending defeat Sunday to the Portland Trail Blazers, and a few of their players didn’t perform when the team needed them most.

Center Nikola Jokic went 11-for-26 from the field, missing several key shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Coach Michael Malone admitted after the defeat that Jokic took responsibility for the 100-96 loss in the locker room, but Malone refused to assign the blame to him.

In truth, Denver’s defeat was a team effort. Jokic did not have a great shooting night, but Jamal Murray went 4-of-18 and failed to knock down any of his four three point tries. Combine that with some huge moments from Portland’s star players and you have a recipe for defeat.

Meyers Leonard gets weakest flagrant foul of playoffs for beef with Jokic

Meyers Leonard got called for the weakest flagrant foul of the postseason for his brief beef with Nikola Jokic in the fourth quarter of a Game 5 blowout on Tuesday night.

Leonard was defending Jokic with Portland down by 20 to Denver. Jokic drove to the basket and was fouled by Leonard and then said something to the Trail Blazers big man.

Then Zach Collins stepped in to tell Jokic to back off.

The referees came in to separate everyone and then reviewed the play. They decided to give Leonard a flagrant 1 foul for unnecessary contact. That really seemed like a flagrant foul call for unnecessary trash talking.

Leonard getting under the skin of Jokic is something Portland fans will happily take all day.

Denver won the game 124-98 and leads the Western Conference semifinals series 3-2.