LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — On the surface, it appeared Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic experienced a tumultuous three weeks.
On June 23, Jokic tested positive for the coronavirus just as the NBA began testing protocols. After staying quarantined for 14 days in his native Serbia, he experienced varying traveling logistics that prevented him from rejoining the team. And though he watched the Nuggets practice here on Monday, it remains unclear when he will receive clearance to participate.
Yet, there Jokic was after practice showing more joy and humor than any sorrow and concerns.
“It wasn’t difficult at all. I was home,” Jokic said Tuesday in a video conference call with reporters. “I was with my girlfriend. It was actually kind of a vacation for us.”
Jokic had no intentions to test for COVID-19 since he remained asymptomatic. The NBA required league-wide testing, however, before teams would travel to Orlando from July 7-9. Jokic took a test just as he planned to leave his native Serbia for Denver. He then received news he did not expect.
“It was kind of weird. I was feeling good and feeling normal,” Jokic said. “I was surprised.”
Meanwhile, the Nuggets became concerned. They closed their practice facility two weeks ago after the team said “multiple people” in the team’s traveling party tested positive for COVID-19. Even now, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said he’s “not sure when we’re going to have a full complement of players.” As Yahoo! Sports first reported, Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris, forwards Michael Porter Jr. and Torrey Craig have not yet joined the team to Orlando. According to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, any person that tests positive has to undergo a cardiac screening and then receive two consecutive negative tests.
Jokic finally cleared that hurdle. So he arrived here at the Disney Campus on Saturday night before spending the next two days in quarantine. He said he had limited interaction with teammates and coaches other than having a socially distant lunch with them on Tuesday. Since he cleared quarantine, Jokic then received permission to attend and observe practice.
“Nikola is a big part of what we’re trying to do. Having him here finally is great,” Malone said. “He and I have a tremendous relationship. It was wonderful to see him walk through those doors.”
Jokic seemed to feel the same way. Malone observed that Jokic was “in great spirits” during practice, and he showed that personality in his video conference call. Jokic, who is listed as 7-0, 284 pounds, showed his playful sense of humor on the curiosity on how much weight he had lost after the NBA halted the season on March 11 because of the pandemic.
“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you my pounds and my weight,” Jokic said. “It’s a team policy. I like that.”
Moments later, Jokic became a bit more forthcoming. He said he only lost an additional three to five pounds after losing 20 to 25 pounds during the season through diet and exercise. That prompted him to express amusement over the general public thinking he has become a lean center.
THIN JOKIC ALERT
(? by @Breza89)pic.twitter.com/WYwpDSZ5cQ
Jokic is living out the opposite of the ‘My Plans/2020’ Meme. pic.twitter.com/I0IsmQJ5lp
“About the pictures, I see how people don’t see the changes,” Jokic said. “I didn’t lose that much pounds in the quarantine and corona.”
Nonetheless, Jokic remained active during quarantine. During the hiatus, Jokic talked frequently with Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ head strength and conditioning coach, for tips on various workouts so he could remain strong and in shape. The result? Jokic reported that he “didn’t have a break at all.”
Even when he stayed in quarantine at his native Serbian home, Jokic had the freedom to train in his residence.
All of which gives the Nuggets (43-22) a chance to contend against the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14), Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) and Utah Jazz (41-23) in the Western Conference. Jokic already had averaged 20.2 points on 52.8 percent shooting, 10. 2 rebounds and 6.9 assists before the season went on hold. And now he no longer feels burdened with worries about COVID-19. He also does not need to claim he needs the excess pounds to play physically as he maintained during last season’s playoffs, which ended with the Nuggets losing in the second round to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games.
“I needed to say that because what do you want me to say? It was the excuse for the weight,” Jokic said. “What I’m going to do, I don’t know. I’m just happy to be here and finally come to Orlando to be with the team. Maybe I’ll surprise everybody. You will see.”
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