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12 February 2019 04:30

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Nuggets news: Denver players praise Isaiah Thomas, say they wouldn't be where they are without his leadership qualities

You need to step up,' or something like that," Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said recently when asked to explain what it's like to share a locker room with Isaiah Thomas. Which, funny enough, is the same question on the mind of NBA wonks and Nuggets fans this week, ever since reports bubbled up last month that the 30-year-old point guard, who has been rehabbing from hip surgery, had targeted this pre-all-star-break mini-homestand with Miami (on Monday) and Sacramento (on Wednesday) to make his possible season debut. But we do know this: The Nuggets (37-18 entering Monday night's game) aren't turning the screws on the rest of the Western Conference without big brother Isaiah pushing his younger teammates, be it in the locker room, in practice, or from his seat at the end of the bench. "We probably wouldn't be this high along in the West if he wasn't in our locker room," point guard Monte Morris, one of the franchise's — and the league's — great narratives of 2019, said of Thomas. What's remarkable is how really, really good they've been even without Thomas, a career 18.1-points-per-game scorer, on the floor through the season's first 55 contests.

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How Isaiah Thomas — Joe Pesci with a jump shot — pushed Nuggets to NBA stratosphere

"(He brings) a lot of leadership," Nuggets swing man Will Barton said of Thomas. The Miami HEAT face the Denver Nuggets Monday night at Pepsi Center. Couper Moorhead: Considering the opponent, the HEAT played their best offensive game of the season, primarily because they shot 18-of-43 from deep. With Denver on a tough back-to-back – the sort Miami will be on Monday night – and the HEAT not hitting their three balls, it was a grind-it-out defensive affair, with only a masterclass triple-double from Nikola Jokić pushing the Nuggets over the top. The details may not matter too much other than this: entering that game, the Nuggets were still a Top 10 defense but they had a profile on that end, allowing a ton of shots at the rim and open threes, which didn't suggest as much long-term sustainability as you might have expected.

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Since then, in a game when the Nuggets struggled with the HEAT's ability to find big guys rolling to the rim off screens, they've dropped to No. 15 on defense. The 28-year-old Plumlee has certainly taken advantage of some more playing time, as he's averaging 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and a block on 70 percent shooting over his last three. Oddly enough that's the style Denver has been playing all season, but when they do run they're one of the most deadly open-court teams in the league. On January 19th, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Thomas could return during the Nuggets home stand on February 11th-13th when they face the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings respectively. As early as January 29th, Thomas began tweeting to the public that he was looking for a place to get some reps playing live five-on-five games.

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The reason that he was turning to the public to get time playing in a live game setting was because the Nuggets were so injured that they did not have enough healthy bodies to play five-on-five. The Nuggets still could not put together enough healthy bodies to allow Thomas the play some five-on-five basketball with his own team which is why the decision to assign him to the G-League originally came to fruition. Once the Blue Coats alerted the Nuggets organization that they also could not facilitate a five-on-five basketball game, it was decided that Thomas would instead stick with the Nuggets instead of heading down to the G-League for practice time. Thomas is officially ruled out for the Nuggets' Monday night home game against the Heat, but he does have a chance to play against the Kings in the last game before the Nuggets head into the All-Star Break. When asked what Thomas can do to help Denver, Barton said, "A lot.

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Leadership, former All-Star, scorer, a guy who can close games, toughness, and he has been on the big stage in big moments. "(Thomas) brings a lot of energy and, like I said, leadership. Malone's film sessions, especially after a tough loss, can resemble a college lecture hall where Denver's coach will survey the players who were on the court during a turnover or poor defensive sequence and ask what they were seeing as a particular play developed. Sometimes, the room goes silent and the flashbacks to getting called on in General Psych become a little too real for many on the Nuggets' roster who could still be in college, especially if Malone is rehashing the 17 threes Denver gave up against Milwaukee in a December loss or the season-high 21 turnovers the Nuggets committed against the Suns. It's a delicate balance between handing out constructive criticism and commendation that Isaiah Thomas, who's yet to play a game for the Nuggets, has to manage.

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He's as seasoned in NBA 101 as they come, and the playoff-tested veteran was brought to Denver for not only his basketball expertise but also for his willingness to speak up and say what needs to be said amidst a sometimes reticent locker room which houses the second-youngest roster in the league. During the 2017 playoffs, Thomas tried to play through a hip injury but was ultimately shut down following Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. "He just said that it's a long season and you can go on a winning streak at any time," Morris recalled. Goodwin came to the Nuggets from the G League and walked into Denver's locker room before his first game with some "busted" team Jordan sneakers that had traveled with him on the dusty G-League trails from Rio Grande Valley to Sioux Falls, Des Moines and finally to Denver. Many around the team credit Thomas' brashness for the lively and stimulating vibe inside the Nuggets locker room this season, which some veterans have compared to a local barbershop.

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"I said if Klay Thompson was the No. 1 option on a team he would average 25 points per game," Thomas said. THOMAS ALWAYS OCCUPIES the last seat on the Nuggets bench during games. Other nights it's Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt, who for 48 minutes get a crash course on NBA trash talk from the nine-year veteran who's constantly chirping at the opposition from Denver's sideline. The 23-year-old, who only played 25 minutes with the Nuggets last season, has emerged as a rock-solid backup point guard for Denver this year averaging roughly 11 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from three, to go with 3.9 assists per game. When Thomas is ready to play, he could swallow some of Morris' minutes, even with how good Denver's primary backup point guard has played this season.

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But Morris can't wait for Thomas to return to the court, even if it means his playing time could take a small hit. We probably wouldn't be this high in the West if he wasn't in our locker room giving us tips on guys he played and just knowing how to pull through," said Morris. The Nuggets have dropped three games in a row for only the second time this season. Denver looks tired and like a team that can sense the All-Star break that's around the corner. Injuries have hit the Nuggets hard all season, and they currently have the most games in the league missed due to injury.

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The team hasn't been able to play their opening-night starting lineup together since the second game of the regular season. The Nuggets don't view Thomas as the replacement level player he was in Cleveland and Los Angeles last season. He's one of the only ones who's going to say something like 'You're not playing good. Isaiah Thomas hasn't played a single minute for the Denver Nuggets this season, and yet the players on the team say they wouldn't be where they are right now if it wasn't for Thomas' leadership qualities. So, what exactly has Thomas done to help Denver win 37 games entering Monday?

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"We probably wouldn't be this high along in the West if he wasn't in our locker room," point guard Monte Morris said of Thomas, via Sean Keeler of the Denver Post. So we're looking forward to having him back." "(He brings) a lot of leadership," Nuggets swingman Will Barton said of Thomas. He's just (been) on the big stage in big moments." "He's the one who's going to say something, too, like, 'You're not playing good. You need to step up,' or something like that," Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said. Activision Blizzard is set to report earnings for the all-important holiday quarter tomorrow, Tuesday February 12, and things aren't looking good at this stage.

Second, The Los Angeles Times reports that analysts are expecting Activision Blizzard's sales to fall by two percent to $7.28 billion when the company reports earnings on Tuesday. We are unsure what the future of Activision Blizzard will look like, but we do know the company wants to focus on releasing games more often to increase profits. Additionally, gaming company Activision Blizzard will be in focus when it reports earnings after the bell on Tuesday.