The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is guarded by the Warriors’ Klay Thompson at Oracle Arena on April 2 in Oakland, Calif.


The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is guarded by the Warriors’ Klay Thompson at Oracle Arena on April 2 in Oakland, Calif. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

DENVER — Joker Rule No. 1: Duck.

If you’re not on the ball in practice, Nikola Jokic might decide to chuck one at your face. “Sometimes he does it on purpose, just to keep us aware,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said of Jokic, the Nuggets’ All-Star center.

“It’s a good tactic that he uses, especially in practices to where (if) you’re not looking, and he’ll throw it at you, and he’ll hit you in the head or somewhere. It’s a reminder to always be watching. It’s a good tactic.”

Joker Rule No. 2: Always be watching. ALWAYS.

“Yeah, he hit me a few times,” Millsap admitted. “Not in the face. I’ve seen the ball coming to me, so last-minute, I’ve dodged out the way of it. A few times, actually. “

Joker Rule No. 3: When in doubt, be light on your feet.

“I know I’m always taking the risk,” Jokic said of his passing, which helped hoist the second-seeded Nuggets into their first NBA Playoffs series since 2013 when the San Antonio Spurs come to town Saturday in the first test of a seven-game series at the Pepsi Center. “But there’s the fun and there’s a little pressure, (whether) I’m going to make it or not. Sometimes it’s stupid. Sometimes it’s really good.”

Hey, sometimes it’s painful. But usually, it’s awesome.

“Of all the (big) guys, from Vlade (Divac) to Bill (Walton) to (Arvydas) Sabonis,” observed former Denver point guard Fat Lever, “those guys don’t compare to the way Jokic throws a pass.”

He’s the pivot and the point, the alpha’s alpha, rarefied air in rarefied air. The Nuggets run an offense through Jokic the way the Broncos, at their best, ran through Peyton Manning. At its apex, it’s sheer beauty. Like Big No. 18, even bad Joker is entertaining as all heck. Bad Joker can still see everything. Bad Joker can still hit a sprinting teammate on the fly with a high-arcing rainbow, the way Manning could hit Demaryius Thomas on a fly pattern.

“He’s the best,” former Nuggets defensive stopper and current Altitude TV analyst Bill Hanzlik said. “He’s got the third eye. And he’s like the least athletic All-Star, except maybe (he’s got) the best hands of any All-Star. Great hands. He catches the ball, he knows how to put the right touch on it.

“He’s not athletic, he’s not fast and he’s not quick. He doesn’t jump. But what makes him unbelievable is his vision and that his hands are so good. All-Stars have that kind of ability, and his ability to sense where somebody might cut or move before that guy even makes that play.”

Joker Rule: No. 4: Think three steps ahead.

“Passing is kind of in my game all my life,” Jokic explained. “But then I came here, I found a lot more options to pass the ball to make my teammates better. I think that’s the way you can be part of the game really well. You can see that just with the passing, you can destroy the defense.”

Or, if you prefer, the Internet.

Which is dang near what happened on Jan. 10, when arguably Jokic’s best bomb of the season — maybe the best of his career — went viral. The Nuggets’ 7-footer dropped jaws when he grabbed a rebound at Pepsi Center against the Los Angeles Clippers a step or two back from the rim, then turned and, in one motion, dropped a long pass over the length of the court — and over the entire Clips defense — to a streaking Jamal Murray, who dunked it at the other end.



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