Nuggets' Nikola Jokic looks to boost MVP hopes vs. Knicks

Arguably the favorite for NBA's Most Valuable Player award will face off against a surprise contender for the honor Wednesday night when the New York Knicks visit the Denver Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic is making a push for league MVP, trying to become the first Denver player to accomplish the feat.

Jokic leads the team in points (26.3 per game), rebounds (10.9), assists (8.5) and steals (1.4). He has also carried the Nuggets (43-22) through devastating injuries to sit near the top of the Western Conference standings.

One of the players making a late case for MVP is New York's Julius Randle. In the midst of his first All-Star campaign, he has comparable averages -- 24.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game -- and has played the most minutes in the league this season. Second on that list is Jokic.

Randle has led the Knicks on a rousing stretch to vault themselves up the Eastern Conference standings. New York (37-28) has won 12 of its past 13 games to leap into the fourth playoff position on the conference, in large part due to Randle's play. He is averaging 31 points in the past 11 contests.

"People don't understand how tough it is to play in New York, and he's bringing a winning mentality back to the Knicks," teammate Taj Gibson said. "You got to give him his credit. Julius has earned his credit for being in the MVP race. He deserves it."

Jokic has taken on even more responsibility since Denver guard Jamal Murray was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee 11 games ago, and the injury list keeps growing. During the Nuggets' 93-89 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Denver guard PJ Dozier left late in the game with a right adductor strain.

He grabbed at his inner thigh after going down to the court and had to be helped off. Dozier's injury further depletes Denver's backcourt, as Monte Morris and Will Barton are still out due to right hamstring injuries.

"I don't know if this team is cursed," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game. "We've got to bring in some kind of high priest to rid the team of any bad omens."

Dozier underwent an MRI exam Tuesday and was ruled out for Wednesday.

Malone said Monday night that Morris is close to returning and should be back in the "next couple of games."

Even with the injuries, and the loss to the Lakers, Denver has clinched a top-six playoff seed in the West, meaning it will avoid having to take part in the play-in round. The Nuggets finished 13-3 in April, which was the best record in the NBA, and earned Malone coach of the month honors.

It will be tougher for Denver to continue that run of success over the last seven games of the regular season. The Nuggets' only home game after Wednesday night is against the Brooklyn Nets, and Denver plays its last four games on the road.

A win against New York would give Denver the season sweep. The Nuggets won the first meeting, 114-89, at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 despite 29 points and 10 rebounds from Randle. Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds in that game.

--Field Level Media

05/05/2021 0:28

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