The defending champion Denver Nuggets looked unstoppable when they opened the season with an 8-1 run, but things have gotten a lot tougher lately with the absence of Jamal Murray. The Nuggets entered Monday on a two-game losing streak and ultimately lost three of their last four games. Still, a road trip to face the woeful 2-12 Detroit Pistons, on an 11-game losing streak, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back on track.
That’s not exactly how things played out, at least at first. Early in the first half, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was upset with the officials after two Isaiah Livers free throws and complained aggressively. He then immediately started walking off the field, as if he expected to be sent off for it.
Winning without your head coach is hard enough, now imagine trying to win without your MVP. Nikola Jokic, who had not attempted a free throw for 15 minutes of play, believed he had been the victim of a foul by the Pistons. When he complained to the officials, he too was ejected from the game.
The Nuggets have complained a lot about the way Jokic is officiated in recent seasons. Jokic, who entered Monday averaging 28.8 points per game so far this season, is averaging just 6.2 free throw attempts per game. He’s only gotten to the line a total of 10 times in Denver’s last two losses, and after the frustration early in this game, Jokic decided he’d had enough.
The Nuggets and Pistons were tied when Jokic was ejected and, ultimately, one could argue that his absence was a positive. The Nuggets would win the game, 107-103, and they did it without Jokic, Murray or Malone. This should strengthen the confidence of a bench that has attracted criticism for years. What if evictions force officials to reconsider how they handle Jokic and the Nuggets? It certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
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