Victor Wembanyama, Spurs stun Nikola Jokic, Nuggets in wild finish

The Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs are far from comparable, but can the same be said for the teams’ superstar big men Nikola Jokic and Victor Wembanyama?

Jokic and Wembanyama went head-to-head on Friday night, in an important contest for Denver’s seeding. San Antonio has the worst record in the Western Conference at 21-60, but Wemby and Co. stunned one of the Western Conference’s top seeds. The Spurs defeated the Nuggets, 121-120, largely due to strong stretches throughout the second half. The game-sealing play came off a fastbreak layup by guard Devonte’ Graham.

The Nuggets had an opportunity with less than one second left but could not inbound the ball. San Antonio erased a 23-point second-half deficit, outscoring the Nuggets 34-20 in the final quarter. This devastating loss drops Denver to the No. 3 seed in the West, trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 1) and Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 2), who won their games tonight.

Wembanyama concluded the night with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 44.4% from the field and 5-of-12 (41.7%) from 3-point range. He scored 17 of his points in a jaw-dropping third quarter, which included a 3-pointer just past halfcourt. As usual, he also made his presence felt defensively, finishing with 2 blocks and a steal. Wembanyama also had a game-high 7 turnovers, which must be cleaned up.

Meanwhile, Jokic recorded 22 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds on 9-of-13 (69.2%) shooting from the field. Denver had just 6 turnovers to San Antonio’s 18, but the Spurs still managed to come out on top.

While the gap between Jokic and Wembanyama is clear, it’s largely due to a lack of experience for the French rookie. The 7-foot-4 big man has been sensational as a rookie, flashing limitless potential and living up to the generational hype that surrounded his name prior to entering the league. Few players in NBA history have dealt with the expectations that Wembanyama was burdened with, but he has not disappointed.

The 20-year-old had big shoes to fill as the third No. 1 pick in Spurs’ franchise history, following Hall-of-Famers David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997). There is a strong possibility that Wemby, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs will be able to dominate the West in the coming years (similar to Duncan and Pop in the 2000s). The Spurs’ struggles this season will allow them to land another top prospect in the 2024 NBA Draft, giving Wembanyama a potential star running mate.

All signs point to the Nuggets making another deep postseason run, especially considering the playoff inexperience of the Timberwolves and Thunder. However, a crucial loss to the bottom-seeded Spurs doesn’t inspire much confidence. Still, Jokic is the favorite to win his third NBA MVP award in the past four years while co-star Jamal Murray is firing at a high level. Murray tallied 35 points and 5 rebounds on 53.8% shooting in the loss to San Antonio.

The Nuggets play their final game of the regular season on April 14 against the injury-plagued Memphis Grizzlies.


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