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Keeler: Move over, Rudy Gobert. You, too, Draymond Green. Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is now one of NBA’s best defenders, too.

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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic exits game against Jazz with knee injury

Nikola Jokic plays Volkswagen Golf defense in a Lamborghini league. It’s efficient. It’s effective. But it’s not in your face. It’s not showy.

It doesn’t easily translate to a poster, the way that a Dikembe Mutombo or a Marcus Camby did. It just … works.

“(Jokic is) an easy mark,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said earlier this week, “because he’s not that shot-blocking athletic guy that’s making plays at the rim.”

And yet, on top of everything else the reigning NBA MVP does better than anybody in the world, the Joker is also off — stealthily — to the best defensive start of his Nuggets career.

Before games Tuesday night, the Big Honey topped the Basketball-Reference.com NBA leaderboards in Defensive Rating (96.2, or 96.2 points allowed per 100 opponent possessions), a smidge better than Utah’s Rudy Gobert (96.5); Defensive Win Shares (1.0); and Defensive Box Plus/Minus (plus-4.9). He ranked third in Defensive Rebound Percentage (36.9), trailing only Gobert and Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic.

With Michael Porter Jr. stuck in hoops purgatory and Jamal Murray on the mend, the Nuggets have had to reinvent themselves on the fly. For now, Ball Arena is the place where opponent possessions go to die.

The Nuggets rank third among NBA clubs in Basketball-Reference.com’s Defensive Rating, allowing an estimated 102.9 points per 100 opponent possessions. A 111-101 setback at Dallas on Monday night was only the fourth game among the Nuggets’ first 14 in which Denver surrendered 100 points or more.

“We have the No. 2 defense in the NBA after 13 games,” Malone told reporters this past Sunday. “Nikola is the anchor of our defense … he’s doing something right.”

Several things, now that you mention it.

Fast feet. Active hands. Talking. Communication. Recognition. Quick adjustments. Persistence. Discipline. Cantankerousness.

Offense is nature. Defense is nurture. It’s one of the few basketball skills at which one can improve as they age. If they want to.

“For some reason people always try to make a big stink about Nikola not being a good defensive player,” Malone noted recently.  “He’s been great defensively. I think he’s like ninth in the NBA in contested shots per game. He’s had a huge impact.”

On several fronts. Jokic’s blocks (1.4) and steals (2.0) per game are both up over his historic 2020-21 MVP season, while his block percentage (2.7%) and defensive rebounding percentage (36.9%), per Basketball-Reference.com, have improved by a fairly healthy clip over last year’s pace (1.9 and 26.1, respectively) already.

Even as he’s shed weight from his midsection and added layers to his game, the Joker isn’t a classic skywalker. He won’t slap at shots as much as contest, molest and change shots.

 

“We are having a couple different coverages, and I think guys are buying in,” Jokic said after helping hold Portland to 43.8% shooting and 12 turnovers during a 29-point victory. “I just like how we are helping each other, even when we make a mistake. We fly for each other.”

During the Nuggets’ recent 5-0 homestand, the opposition’s starting center averaged 11.8 points, 8.4 boards and 3.2 personal fouls per game. Miami’s Bam Adebayo went 3 for 10. Jusuf Nurkic shot 2 for 5.  The numbers don’t lie. Neither do your eyes.

The Joker won’t leap to the rafters and swat shots into Douglas County. You won’t hear the engine coming from six blocks away. Yet that Golf is always there at the finish line, quietly building the case for a second MVP award. One opponent brick at a time.

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

Although Minnesotans had to go without their beloved State Fair in 2020, it returned despite numerous pandemic-related obstacles in 2021 to become one of the best-attended North American events of the year, according to Fair officials.

In spite of the comeback, the Fair reported an operating loss of $1.3 million last year, general manager Jerry Hammer told the governing body of the Great Minnesota Get-Together on Sunday. When the Fair was canceled in 2020, the loss was $16.5 million, he said.

The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, which oversees the state’s end-of-summer ritual, held its the 163rd annual meeting in Bloomington over the weekend.

The 2022 State Fair will take place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. The new admission prices will be $17 for those 13-64 years old; people 5-12 and 65 and older will pay $15. Those under 4 are admitted for free. The increased price begins Feb. 1. Discount tickets will be on sale for $13 for all ages until Jan. 31 at mnstatefair.org/tickets.

Despite the operating loss, the 2021 Fair drew 1.3 million attendees, Hammer said, adding that pulling off the fair in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic was “miraculous.”

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Baylor WR, 3-star OL commit to CU Buffs

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CU Buffs football early National Signing Day class of 2022

One of the top receivers for the Big 12 champs is coming to Boulder.

On Sunday, RJ Sneed II announced that he will play his final season of college football at Colorado after spending the previous five years at Baylor.

Also on Sunday, Van Wells, an offensive lineman from C.E. King High School in Houston, announced his verbal commitment to the Buffaloes after spending the weekend in Boulder on an official visit.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Sneed helped Baylor go 12-2 and win the Big 12 championship game, as well as the Sugar Bowl this season. He was second for the Bears in catches (46) and receiving yards (573) and caught two touchdown passes.

During his career, Sneed has 133 catches for 1,564 yards and eight touchdowns. After playing minimally in 2017 and redshirting in 2018, Sneed finished third on the team in receptions (42) and yards (437) in 2019. In 2020, he led the Bears in receptions (39), receiving yards (497) and touchdowns (three) and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

A 2017 graduate of Cypress Ranch (Tex.) High School, Sneed was a three-star prospect who had 20 scholarship offers, including from Colorado. He had offers from 17 Power 5 schools, including Alabama, Mississippi, TCU, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Utah.

Sneed graduated from Baylor with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in August of 2020 and has been working on a master’s in sports pedagogy. He will have one season to play at CU.

With the Buffs, Sneed will provide production and veteran leadership to a group that has lost four players to the transfer portal this offseason: Chris Carpenter, Keith Miller, Brenden Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. Rice has not announced his destination, but Carpenter (UTSA), Miller (Texas A&M-Commerce) and Shenault (Alabama State) have committed to other schools.

Statistically, Rice was the Buffs’ top wide receiver this past season, but the Buffs are slated to return seniors Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson, junior Dimitri Stanley and sophomores Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and Ty Robinson.

Also in the mix will be three incoming freshmen: Grant Page, Chase Sowell and Jordan Tyson.

A three-star prospect, Wells is rated by 247Sports.com as a top-75 interior lineman nationally in the 2022 class. He has 19 total scholarship offers, including from Air Force, Houston and Maryland.

Wells is the third lineman in CU’s class, joining tackles Carter Edwards and Travis Gray.

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WATCH: Tyrei Randall hits three-quarter-court OT buzzer beater to lift Metro State men’s basketball over Colorado Mesa

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WATCH: Tyrei Randall hits three-quarter-court OT buzzer beater to lift Metro State men’s basketball over Colorado Mesa

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