Keeler: Nikola Jokic’s critics are the big whiners, Charles Barkley. Not Nuggets coaches. Not Nuggets fans.

Oh, so now we’re “whiny,” Charles Barkley?

Dang straight. Loud and proud. Wah, wah, wah.

Here’s why:

In a game that actually meant something, on Feb. 16, Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic put up 35 points, 17 boards and eight assists in San Francisco against Golden State. Steph Curry’s Golden State. Steph Curry’s home floor. Denver won, 117-116, to stun the current No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket.

Big night for the reigning NBA MVP. Big W for one of the West’s hottest teams over the past four weeks.

The coastal media? The networks? The talking heads?

They shrugged. Shrugged and moved on.

Wah, wah, wah, yada, yada, yada. Fine.

OK, so fast forward the calendar a bit. It’s Monday, the day after the NBA All-Star Game. And on Fox Sports 1’s “First Things First,” one of the countless “Pardon The Interruption” rip-offs where the temperature of takes supersedes their logic, this question was posited:

What does it say about Nikola Jokic that he played zero minutes in the fourth quarter of an All-Star game?

The correct answer, of course, is:

“Nothing. Not a blasted thing. It’s a blankety-blank All-Star game. Next question.”

But that didn’t stop host Nick Wright from jumping into dumb-infested waters with both feet to offer this instead:

“… and then there’s an All-Star game and people want to win. And they care about winning. And Jokic doesn’t start the fourth quarter. But, well, he’ll come in when there’s a substitution. No, no, no. Giannis comes in. OK, wait, there’s another substitution. No, no, no. DeMar DeRozan comes in. Well, the other team was playing ‘small ball.’ No, no, no. The other team was playing Joel Embiid the whole fourth quarter. And your team, Monty Williams is the (NBA) Coach of the Year, goes center-less rather than play Jokic. And I’m the hater.

“ … Monty Williams, smart basketball guy, was like, ‘What gives us our best chance to win? Jokic, sit your (expletive) down. Sit down. You’re not going to play. Sorry, buddy. We’d rather have no center on the court than watch Embiid cook you the way he had the whole game.’

“So I don’t want to hear, ever again, that I have to talk about this guy like he’s the best player in the league. A top-10 player? Yes. Do I respect his game? Absolutely. Has he evolved? Sure. But what more evidence do you need?”

Ahem.

Couple things.

1. You’re ripping Jokic’s defense in an All-Star game?

Dude, we’re talking about an All-Star game. Noooobody plays defense in an All-Star game. That’s the point.

2. “Center-less?”

Jarrett Allen played all 12 minutes for Team LeBron, Jokic’s crew, in the fourth quarter. Jarrett Allen is the starting center for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Help me out here, pal.

3. “Cook you?”

Sure, Jokic posted a plus-minus of negative-3 in the third quarter. Yep, Embiid connected on a scorching 12 of 15 attempts from the floor over the exhibition game’s first three quarters. He’s an elite big man who had an absolutely fabulous night.

But let’s go back to point No. 1, shall we? All-Star game, dude. Noooobody plays defense in an All-Star game.

According to NBA.com’s tracking stats, this was Jokic’s head-to-head offensive shooting line with Embiid guarding him during three regular-season meetings during the ’19-20 and ’18-19 season: 10 for 17 from the floor, 2 for 6 on treys.

Now here was Embiid’s shooting line in those three games, with Jokic guarding him in games that, again, actually meant something: 8-for-27 shooting, 0 for 6 on treys.

Want to know why we whine, Chuckster?

That’s why, buddy. Right there.

Yeah, I know: Wah, wah, wah.

Hey, it’s a free country. Some guys get paid to yank your chain. Others get paid to pick fights. We’d love to say they’ll go away. They won’t.

The Joker dared to be transcendent for a franchise that the NBA pundits want to keep in its respective place, in a town the cognoscenti would sooner fly over.

Let ‘em vent. When Jamal Murray gets back up to speed, their heads are going to explode. We’ll bring the popcorn.

But, seriously, Sir Charles? If you want to know why all us whiners along the Front Range play the disrespect card, it’s right there.

And if your argument against Jokic being one of the best players on the planet is that he didn’t get to close out an All-Star game, best find a new argument. Or a new hill.

Because you already died on this one, champ. A long time ago.

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