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Nuggets guard Austin Rivers called his two-month hoops hiatus a “blessing in disguise.”
Not only did it give Rivers time to conduct a self-audit, it gave him the chance to master the art of the diaper change.
“I have a two-month-old baby boy, so I got to be at home with him,” Rivers told The Denver Post. “I had my son come up (to New York), my two-year-old, which was a handful. I was really on like daddy duty, man. I was making dinners, cleaning diapers, waking up in the morning, just life, man. It was a new experience for me being able to do that stuff, but it was amazing.”
In between trips to the zoo and various trips to the park, Rivers stayed in shape knowing that the call back to the NBA could come any moment. It was a place Rivers never thought he’d be in after starting the season with the Knicks, then getting moved to the Thunder and immediately waived.
“Basketball-wise, it didn’t make sense the things I was going through,” Rivers said.
At 28, his first step was still devastating, and he still brought it defensively. Why, then, was he on the outside looking in?
“There are things from a leader, as a person who’s been in the league for that long, I can be better at,” Rivers admitted. “More consistent. Always being a presence in the locker room where you’re adding nothing but positivity. Not that I ever added negative stuff, but you can be better. You have to look in the mirror and just be like, ‘Man, I can be better at these things.’ I can be earlier, I can talk more.”
Rivers said on past teams he’d been seen as an “introvert.”
“I think sometimes when you do that, it leaves people to guess who you are because they don’t know you,” he said. “That was kind of my thing. I just started to be like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna start to really give myself to the team,’ and just put myself out there.”
Call it an epiphany. Rivers knew he couldn’t entirely blame his circumstances on the Knicks.
“When you have a fresh start like (in Denver) … and then you just stop trying to put so much emphasis on yourself,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference in my game right now and just my approach as a player. I’ve given myself to the team. Whether I play 35 minutes or five minutes, I’m going to be positive as hell.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson Rivers learned while away from the game was how much better it feels when your primary focus isn’t on individual achievement. Not that he regrets his circuitous NBA path in the least; without it, he wouldn’t be in Denver with a front office and a coach who believes in him.
“I was a top rookie and didn’t have my best years in the league,” Rivers said. “I’ve been through a lot as a player. Those experiences I don’t take back because I know I can use them for good instead of (being) so focused on myself… Just focus on trying to help the team. When you do that … it’s a lot easier to be happy. It’s a lot easier to be positive. It takes energy to be so indulged in yourself all the time.”
Rivers, who erupted for 25 points Wednesday against the Knicks and then drained five more 3-pointers in Friday’s loss to Utah, called his new start in Denver a “blessing.”
“They gave me a chance, and they didn’t believe stuff that they’d heard,” he said.
When the Nuggets began doing their background research on Rivers, the questions Tim Connelly asked had nothing to do with talent. Rivers said Connelly told him he was confident he’d be an asset on the court.
“All the questions were about culture,” Rivers said. “They take that seriously here. That’s a priority.”
“… They don’t have bad guys on the team,” he added. “They just don’t. Their superstars are soft-spoken people. Jamal Murray and (Nikola) Jokic are like the most regular, normal guys you’d ever meet but are bad dudes on the court. Those are the type of guys they collect here. … It’s a more welcoming type of franchise, and I think that helps players play better and be more comfortable.”
Rivers and his growing family have already fallen for Denver. No one needs to explain the business side of the NBA to Rivers, but if it works, he said he would love to be with the Nuggets moving forward.
“That’s the goal,” Rivers said. “The goal’s to be here long-term. It’s just been a natural fit. I can’t speak for them. I know it’s a business. … I love this team, that’s all I can say.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 21 points in the first half Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets.
Turns out they needed an even bigger cushion in a 125-119 loss at Ball Arena. Nikola Jokic missed two layups through contact at the game’s conclusion and was visibly upset at the officiating for no calls.
Michael Porter Jr. matched up against Kevin Durant for the first time and starred with 28 points. But it wasn’t enough to outshine Brooklyn’s star power, especially in the fourth quarter, as the Nets snapped their four-game skid.
The Nuggets (44-24) now embark on a four-game road trip to conclude the regular season beginning Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
On Saturday, the Nuggets were without starting power forward Aaron Gordon (right calf tightness) while shooting guard Austin Rivers made his first career start since joining the team. It did not initially impact their onslaught at Ball Arena.
Porter scored the Nuggets’ first 11 points — shooting 5-of-6 from deep in the first quarter — to establish an early double-digit advantage. Denver reached deep into its bench with significant minutes for big men Bol Bol, Vlatko Cancar and JaVale McGee in the first half. Reserve guard Markus Howard finished the game with a career-high 13 points. Forward Paul Millsap did not play.
The Nuggets went up 71-56 at halftime. But they didn’t coast to victory.
The Nets opened the second half on a 13-4 run and cut Denver’s lead to single digits. Jokic, after a relatively quiet first half, dropped 10 points in the third quarter as the Nuggets led 104-97 entering the fourth.
Nets shooting guard Joe Harris sank a 3-pointer with 6 minutes left to go ahead 111-110. And Brooklyn’s lead grew to 3 points with 21 seconds after a pair of Durant free throws. The Nuggets were unable to make clutch baskets to end the game.
This story will be updated.
Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash believes it’s time to end the NBA’s Most Valuable Player debate.
It’s the Joker’s award to lose.
“Clearly, (Nikola) Jokic is the MVP this year,” Nash said pregame Saturday at Ball Arena. “He’s kind of gone wire-to-wire at this high level. He makes his teammates better and everything go. They lose Jamal Murray and they haven’t really skipped a beat. That shows how good he is.”
Nash, a two-time MVP winner with the Suns (2005-06), expanded on why Jokic has now earned the distinction.
“He’s such a willing and contagious passer,” Nash said. “He can make the assist, but he can also make the right read. It becomes the hockey assist where the ball moves to one or two guys down the line, and they get open shots. He facilitates that style of play and that willingness to pass. He’s able to knock down that first domino.”
Jokic is currently the oddsmaker’s favorite to win MVP (-1400 per BetMGM). The Serbian center regularly declines to bolster his own candidacy for the award. But Nuggets coach Michael Malone might be his strongest spokesman.
“My argument of why Nikola is the MVP, for us to do what we have done, with all the injuries — especially to your second-best player (Jamal Murray) — really speaks to the impact that Nikola has in every facet of the game,” Malone said. “Offense, defense, leadership, culture, or whatever you want to call it. We’ve been able to weather the storm because of how well Nikola has played and his ability to make everyone around him better.”
The Nuggets knew Bojan Bogdanovic was the riddle. They just had no idea how to solve him.
Bogdanovic rained in a career-high 48 points as the Jazz knocked off the Nuggets, 127-120, on Friday night. Denver had no defensive answer for Bogdanovic, who drained eight 3-pointers to drop the Nuggets to 44-23 on the season. The Nuggets have no time to wallow on the loss with Brooklyn coming to town on Saturday evening.
If it wasn’t Bogdanovic, then it was Jordan Clarkson, who was just 6-of-20 from the field but drained six 3-pointers. The Nuggets drew to within two possessions on multiple occasions late in the fourth quarter but were undone by careless turnovers.
Nikola Jokic responded with 24 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds, however Denver couldn’t counter Utah’s 3-point shooting. The Jazz sunk 21 3-pointers on 45% shooting. The Nuggets knocked down 17 triples themselves, but undermined the offensive effort with 17 turnovers.
Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 31 points on 4-of-9 from 3-point range.
Halftime offered no clues as to how to slow down Bogdanovic. The Nuggets tried all manner of defensive looks, and the rangy forward kept finding creases from the outside or in driving lanes. Fed up with Utah’s 3-point shooting, Nuggets coach Michael Malone challenged a questionable shooting foul against Facundo Campazzo on Jordan Clarkson.
He lost the challenge, and then drew a technical for arguing the outcome.
Austin Rivers helped the Nuggets regain some composure. He drained two of his five 3-pointers in the third quarter, one game after knocking down six from outside. Jokic played the whole quarter, scored nine points and helped the Nuggets to a narrow 99-98 lead going into the fourth.
Before the game, Malone said it didn’t matter that the Jazz were down Mitchell and Mike Conley. Utah still intended to play the same brand of basketball.
“They’re still gonna get a lot of 3s up, they’re one of the league leaders in 3-point makes, attempts, 3-point percentage,” Malone said. “Obviously, Bogdanovic has become their No. 1 option, playing at a high level. But they’re really talented. .. When they have Donovan Mitchell, who can get his own shot any time, that presents a whole other set of problems, but their identity stays the same. They love the three ball, Rudy Gobert, (Derrick) Favors on the rim, great ball movement team, drive and kick team. It’s going to be a multiple effort night.”
Malone wasn’t wrong.
The Jazz launched from outside at every opportunity, but the Nuggets, despite their myriad of injuries, maintained the furious first-half pace. Together, both teams knocked down a combined 21 first-half 3-pointers – 11 for Utah and 10 for Denver. For two teams that bill themselves as defensive stoppers, neither squad could keep the other in check. The Nuggets carried a 73-69 lead into halftime after 61% from the field.
Porter had 21 points on 7 for 10 shooting while Jokic and Millsap tallied 11 each.
“Michael Porter is a stone-cold scorer,” Malone said before the game.
Jokic, always more content to serve his teammates, tore apart Utah’s defense with seven first-half assists.
But no one could contain Bogdanovic, who drained 25 points and walked into a handful of open 3-pointers over the first two quarters.