Wednesday night will mark the first time ever that a Denver Nuggets player will take the court as a league MVP as Nikola Jokic officially won the regular-season honor Tuesday. Jokic played well but not great in the Nuggets' Game 1 loss of their Western Conference semifinal series in Phoenix, and the Nuggets are 6-point underdogs at William Hill Sportsbook for Game 2 in the desert Wednesday. Michael Porter Jr. tweaked his back in the opener, but will play. Guard Will Barton, out several weeks, might.
Back in December on the eve of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, Jokic was a +2000 longer shot to win MVP at William Hill. On bettor on Christmas Day in Nevada put down $650 on Jokic and walked away with $13,650. The Serb averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists this season, joining Oscar Robertson (three seasons) and Russell Westbrook (two) as the only players to average at least 25-10-8 for a season in NBA history.
Jokic, the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O'Neal in 2020, surely will go down as the best second-round pick ever as he was chosen No. 41 overall in the 2014 draft. There was memorably a Taco Bell commercial playing on ESPN when he got drafted. Jokic is the first player drafted in the second round to win MVP in the common draft era (since 1966). Moses Malone, who won three MVPs, started his career in the ABA and is technically an undrafted NBA player.
In the first round series in over the Trail Blazers, Jokic was utterly dominant, but he wasn't so much in the Nuggets' 122-105 loss Monday in shooting 10-for-23 for 22 points with nine rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. Suns big man Deandre Ayton played him essentially to a draw and stayed out of foul trouble, and that's a big reason why Phoenix won. Jokic is set at Over/Under 29.5 points for Game 2 and is +475 for a triple-double.
This writer watched that entire Game 1 and wasn't even aware that Porter Jr. had tweaked his back. Porter Jr. scored 12 first-half points but appeared in halftime warmups with a wrap around his back. Coach Michael Malone played Porter 13 minutes in the second half – he finished with 15 total points – and admitted after the game that the forward wasn't moving well. Keep in mind that Porter Jr. slid in the 2018 draft due to back troubles that required surgeries (plural). He's listed as questionable for Game 2 but fully expected to go.
"Michael was out there trying to give us everything he could," Malone said. "I just was concerned with the way he was moving out there, didn't look right on either end of the floor — trying to run him off screens, trying to get him open knowing that we need his scoring punch."
As for Barton, he has been out since April 23 due to a hamstring injury but there was hope he could return for Game 1 before being ruled out. At 6-foot-6, Barton (12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.2 apg) would provide a huge defensive boost in that undersized and injury-ravaged Denver backcourt. Malone said that Barton "another really good day" in practice on Tuesday and is a "candidate to play."
The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times, and it has returned almost $9,100 in profit on its top-rated NBA picks over the past two-plus seasons. The model is up almost $900 on its top-rated picks this season and entered the conference finals of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on a stunning 100-66 roll on top-rated NBA picks against the spread dating to last season. Anybody who has followed it has seen HUGE returns.