MERILATT MONDAY

It’s time for the Nuggets to wake up, grow up and shut up the naysayers

Mar 6, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:15 am


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Another day, another complaint by Nuggets Nation. That’s the standard refrain nowadays.

This time around, Denver fans are upset that Giannis Antetokounmpo gave himself a free rebounds at the end of the Bucks 117-111 win over the Wizards. The extra board gave Milwaukee’s star a triple-double, as he finished with 23 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds.

Of course, this is a response to comments made by Kendrick Perkins last week about Nikola Jokic. The ESPN commentator suggested that the Nuggets center is a “stat padder,” resulting in a league-leading 25 triple-doubles.

That’s a ridiculous notion, evidenced by the fact that the Nuggets are 25-0 in those games. If Jokic was actually more worried about numbers than wins, Denver wouldn’t boast a perfect record when he reaches that checkpoint. Nor would there be such a thing as a “Sombor double,” which occurs when Jokic finishes a game one assist or rebound short of a triple-double.

Nonetheless, Nuggets fans freaked out about the comments. Jokic had a quip after a win in Houston. And Michael Malone defended his star player.

The reaction begs one simple question: Does Denver want to be in the conversation or not?

Great teams are constantly talked about. So are great players. That’s the way things work in a 24/7 media cycle.

And the conversation isn’t always going to be positive. In fact, about half of the time, it’s going to go the other way. That’s what leads to conversation and debate.

LeBron James is the prime example. For 20 years, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer has been at the center of a seemingly never-ending argument. His teams have as well, with coaches and other players getting dragged into the fray.

That’s just the way it works. That’s what comes with the territory.

It’s certainly better than the alternative. Nobody is spending airtime talking about the Orlando Magic today. No one is debating anything about Paolo Banchero.

Bad teams get ignored. Good teams get talked about. That’s the way it works.

Nuggets Nation doesn’t seem to understand this. Instead, they whine and complain about every perceived slight.

Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray didn’t make the All-Star team. KCP and MPJ didn’t get invited to participate in the three-point content. Jokic would’ve been the last player selected by LeBron or Giannis if he hadn’t forced the issue.

On and on it goes. It’s one complaint after another, citing one oversight after another.

But this is nothing new. It goes back for years.

When Jokic was drafted by the Nuggets with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the broadcast was in a commercial break. Denver fans won’t let it go that he was selected during a Taco Bell ad.

They see it as another example of a preconceived attack on the team. They view it as one of many examples of how the basketball world is out to get the Nuggets.

At this point, it’s getting tiring. Honestly, it’s time for the fan base to grow up.

They still suggest that Jokic doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. He’s won the Most Valuable Player award in each of the last two seasons and is about to become the first player to win three in a row since Larry Bird (1984-86). If that isn’t a sign that people appreciate his game, it’s hard to imagine what would qualify.

They still don’t think the team as a whole gets the respect they deserve, which is nonsense. Calvin Booth might very well win Executive of the Year, an award Masai Ujiri won in Denver. Malone could be Coach of the Year, something George Karl did, as well.

When they do great things, such as winning 57 games the season after trading away Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets get noticed. Ujiri and Karl are evidence of that fact. Jokic is too.

But at the end of the day, nothing is going to quiet the critics quite like one thing: Winning.

Due in large part to injuries, Denver hasn’t fared very well in recent years in the postseason. They got swept in the second round by the Suns in 2021 and were bounced in five games by the Warriors a season ago. That’s a 1-8 record in their last nine playoff games, something that isn’t going to garner a lot of appreciation.

This year, the Nuggets are positioned to make amends for those failings. They’re the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, a spot they firmly hold after Friday night’s big win over the Grizzlies. They have what Booth calls “the best starting five in the NBA” and a deep roster that gives Malone all sorts of flexibility in the playoffs.

The franchise has never been in a better position to win a championship. With no “super team” in the West, they’re path to a first-ever NBA Finals berth is clear.

Getting there will silence the critics. Failing to do so will only make them louder.

That’s how it works. That’s how it is for the big boys.

The Nuggets are now in that conversation. They’re now in that league. They’re now a part of that world.

Instead of complaining about it, they need to dictate the narrative. Go win the West. Advance through the playoffs. Host a parade and hang a banner.

Otherwise, stop griping. No on is picking on the Nuggets. They’re being treated like every other contender.

Grow up. Lean into the pressure. And shut up the chirpers.

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