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“I was king in the castle” – Boulder Daily Camera

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The Denver Nuggets might need to send Peloton a holiday thank you card.

Without the bike, which the team got for Nikola Jokic during his recent stint in quarantine, there’s no telling how badly the Nuggets would’ve lost to Detroit on Tuesday night.

Jokic, who missed the three games preceding Denver’s surprising loss to the Pistons, said he spent his time over the weekend playing video games and riding the exercise machine.

“I was king in the castle,” he said with a smile late Tuesday night.

In what amounted to a mutually beneficial product test, Jokic approved of the machine and said his wife was interested in keeping it.

“I think I’m gonna buy it,” he said after creating an account for himself.

Jokic returned Tuesday night and nearly dragged his beleaguered team across the finish line. He had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 37 minutes. Conditioning did not seem to be an issue, though Jokic did admit to feeling a bit winded.

“I just felt like I didn’t play for a while,” he said.

Jokic was superb and didn’t appear to skip a beat. He drew double-teams, threaded needles to his teammates for easy buckets and shouldered the load as the Nuggets mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets won’t have to wait long before finding out what kind of toll the night took on him. The team boarded a plane and headed out for Wednesday’s back-to-back game at Oklahoma City soon after Jokic’s postgame news conference ended.

Aaron Gordon returned from a non-COVID sickness and was an impact player, too. He feasted inside the paint for 17 points and muscled on the glass for seven boards. Two of Denver’s three returning players were outstanding.

Jamal Murray, who returned from health and safety protocol against the Pistons as well, was not. In fairness, he appeared more hampered from a conditioning standpoint than his teammates and couldn’t find his rhythm in shooting 3-of-12 for 10 points.

“I was expecting Jamal, Aaron, Nikola to all struggle tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone admitted.

Murray did have eight assists, but two costly turnovers in the second half were emblematic of Denver’s troubles all night. On the first one, he got caught in the air and threw it away. On the second, he dribbled into heavy traffic and had it stolen from him as three Pistons swarmed.

“Overdribbling, playing in tight spaces, bad passes, poor spacing,” Malone said in characterizing his team’s 18 turnovers for 26 Piston points.

Denver’s chemistry looked like that of a team that hadn’t been on the court together for a week.

When Bones Hyland started the game but couldn’t finish it due to an illness, it exposed their thin point guard depth even further.

Around Thanksgiving, the road schedule is unrelenting. After a trip to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, the Nuggets return home for two games, then hit the road again for games at Atlanta (Dec. 2) and New Orleans (Dec. 4) — the 14th and 15th games away from Denver. By comparison, they’ve hosted just six games at Ball Arena so far this season.

Even around the holidays, there is little rest for the weary.

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