It was Nikola Jokic’s right wrist, not the pro-Bulls crowd or the Nuggets’ three-game losing streak, that mattered in the wake of Friday night’s loss to Chicago.
Sporting a tan suit and a black brace on his right wrist, Jokic was relegated to cheerleader after suffering a wrist sprain in Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia. Nuggets coach Michael Malone ruled him out before the game started after both player and coach had dismissed the issue late Thursday night.
“He’s got a sore wrist,” Malone said after the Nuggets fell 114-108 to Chicago. “He was out tonight. He’s gotten X-rays, he’s gotten MRI’s, talking to the doctors. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all, but at the same time, I don’t want to put him out there if he can only play with one hand. Unfair to ask him to do that. When he’s ready to play, he’ll play. That could be against Phoenix, that could be in a week. There’s no timeline at this point.”
Without Jokic, the Bulls punished the Nuggets on the glass. They had 17 offensive rebounds that led directly to 18 points. The rebounding battle – often an indication of effort and strongly correlated to the result – was heavily in Chicago’s favor, 50-38.
Jokic’s presence would’ve shored up at least some of the deflating possessions that led to Chicago’s win.
Without Jokic as the anchor of the defense, Malone said the Nuggets played more zone than they had all season. He was pleased with the results, even though they left the Nuggets vulnerable on the boards.
“That’s our offense,” P.J. Dozier said, who finished with a team-high 10 rebounds. “We play through him. He’s the head of the snake. We go as he goes. Having our MVP not on the floor, of course, offensively is going to be an adjustment but defensively as well. He’s communicating to us guards, calling out the coverages. It was definitely an adjustment.”
Instead, Malone ended the game with Gordon at center, a position he said he was more than comfortable playing.
“I’m not sure how long Nikola’s going to be out, but you have options,” Malone said.
Even though Jokic and Jamal Murray were stuck on the sidelines, both players were engaged, almost like assistant coaches.
“It just goes to show how much those guys love the game, and how great of teammates they are and how great of people they are,” Gordon said. “ … There’s no replacing an MVP, and really there’s no replacing Jamal. Either of those guys. For them to still be engaged throughout the entire game, you know, if they can do it, everybody can do it.”