After missing the past six games with a left ankle sprain, Nikola Jokic was medially cleared to rejoin the Denver Nuggets for their Wednesday night bout with the Boston Celtics.
But that wasn’t good enough for Mike Malone.
As Denver’s head honcho told reporters following the 124-118 loss, he remains concerned that Jokic isn’t mentally ready to take the floor just yet, per Altitude TV (BSN Denver’s Harrison Wind):
Malone on Jokic not playing: “I didn’t think he was ready. They might say he was ready but for myself and talking with him, it’s not just is the ankle ready, it’s is his head ready? And I didn’t think he was ready to play tonight so I made that decision.” via
This sounds kind of bizarre on the surface—especially when you consider the numbers. The Nuggets are a plus-76 in the minutes they play with Jokic, according to NBA.com. Through all the time he’s spent off the floor, they’re a minus-72. With the Western Conference’s playoff picture heating, and with Paul Millsap sidelined for the next couple months or so following wrist surgery, sitting an officially healthy Jokic for a seventh straight game could come back to bite the Nuggets in the long run.
Then again, Malone isn’t unwise to play the long game. Jokic may be physically fit to play, but if he’s worried about aggravating his left ankle sprain and starts compensating by favoring the right side of his body, he could end up injuring himself again anyway. Though Malone is no doctor, he’s been around Jokic long enough to sense whether something intangible is off. He visited the 6’10” superstructure in Serbia over the offseason. He’s been grandfathered into Jokic’s dynamic with his brothers. This stuff matters.
And so, too, does Jokic’s status Friday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, a team the Nuggets figure to be in direct seeding competition with all year.