DENVER – Surely, the 6-foot-10 big man nicknamed The Joker was going to have reason to smile at some point Wednesday night.
After all, Nikola Jokic, the third-year center for the Nuggets, is one of the NBA’s rising stars in no small part because of a shooting touch that allows him to score from nearly every spot – and every angle – on a basketball court.
But some combination of the Hawks’ defense and Jokic’s own bum luck translated into one of the worst shooting performances of the center’s young career. It was a key factor in Atlanta’s 110-97 victory, its first on the road since Dec. 2 at Brooklyn.
Jokic, who entered the game shooting 49.5 percent from the field this season, made just 4-of-21 shots against the Hawks, including misfires on all eight of his 3-point attempts, and finished with nine points.
“I would say it’s probably just a little bit of one of those nights for him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He can shoot the ball. He’s normally going to make a few more of those shots. I think he had a little bit of an off night.”
Still, Budenholzer credited the work of Ersan Ilyasova, Dewayne Dedmon, Miles Plumlee and others in making Jokic work hard for his opportunities. That was something he didn’t have to do much during the Hawks’ 105-100 loss to the Nuggets at home on Oct. 27, when Jokic scored 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
But nothing came easy Wednesday. On one bucket in the first half, Jokic collected his own miss three times before finally putting back one his four buckets.
“Overall, I thought everybody did a good job when they matched up with him,” Plumlee said. “We still let him make some nice passes when guys were passing – he’s a tough cover because they play through him a lot – but it also just seemed like he was off with his outside shot. Some of those he’d normally knock down.”
The Hawks certainly won’t apologize for an opponent’s rough shooting night. Besides, it wasn’t just Jokic who struggled against an Atlanta defense that showed considerable energy considering the recent mileage the team has logged. The Nuggets shot just 9-of-37 from 3-point range as a team, and outside of Gary Harris (25 points on 11-of-14 shooting), nobody on the Nuggets could find a rhythm.