Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokic strengthening hold on MVP with game-winning performances in Jamal Murray's absence

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Injuries are subsequent missed games are a huge part of the MVP narrative that eventually decides the recipient of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

With each game after the All-Star break, Nikola Jokic emerged as the frontrunner as both LeBron James and Joel Embiid missed games due to injuries. Now, the Serbian seems to be putting a stranglehold on the MVP debate with his performances after an injury to a key player on his own team.

Jamal Murray was ruled out indefinitely when he tore the ACL in his left knee against the Golden State Warriors. That's the team's second-best player with his impact far more than his season averages of 21.2 points and 4.8 assists.

And yet, Denver has gone 3-0 since, thanks largely to the continued greatness Jokic has put on display.

Against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Ball Arena, he had a game for the ages. Going off for a spectacular stat line of 47 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists on 20-of-31 shooting from the field in a 139-137 double-overtime victory.

It was the first 47-15-8 game by an NBA center since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996.

He outdueled reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, who finished 36 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and three steals, taking over in the double-overtime by scoring nine of the team's 14 points including a couple of clutch buckets.

"That's MVP s**t," Jokic's teammate Wil Barton said postgame. "That's why you're the MVP of the league."

Was that the MVP moment? It's probably far too early to label it that and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone agrees.

"Life's about little moments," Malone said postgame. "And Nikola's got about 56 moments where he's shown he's the MVP."

Less than a week ago, Jokic was the MVP favourite and by a large margin in an informal poll consisting of 101 media members conducted by ESPN. If the poll's prediction comes true, Jokic would be the first center to win the award since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000.

I'm just glad ... we're still popular," Jokic said postgame of centers in the league.

Going forward, the Nuggets' remaining 15-game schedule is the 11th toughest in the league but it would be fair to say that Jokic's grip on the Maurice Podoloff Trophy will only tighten if he maintains this level of play.

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