Kiszla: Are Nuggets tough enough to win championship when push comes to shove in NBA playoffs?

A root canal or a tax audit might be a less painful option than watching ESPN today, Nuggets Nation, after Denver got blown off its home floor by Chicago in an ugly loss that only Kendrick Perkins and everybody who hates the Nuggets could love.

And trust me, the Nuggets do hear the haters who doubt Denver as a legit championship contender, or question center Nikola Jokic’s worthiness as being named the league’s most valuable player for a third consecutive season.

“I pop up YouTube and (hear) what Perk said,” center Nikola Jokic said Wednesday. “I just find it interesting to say something just to give those guys something to talk about.”

On a winter night when 19,896 fans filled Ball Arena to celebrate the Blue Arrow in anticipation of guard Jamal Murray setting the franchise record for 3-point field goals, Murray and the Nuggets shot blanks, getting manhandled before getting drubbed 117-96.

“We haven’t arrived,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We haven’t accomplished anything.”

Yes, Denver remains the undisputed No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, up a comfy seven games in the standings over Sacramento and Memphis.

Yes, the Nuggets’ home record is still a sterling 30-5.

And yes, every team has been subject to bad nights like this during the long grind of the NBA season for almost as long as 89-year-old Hubie Brown has walked the earth.

But in a game that Malone described with words such as handsy, physical and a half-court war that ground the Nuggets’ transition game to a halt, we also saw a preview of how foes will try to take out Denver in the playoffs.

“You’re right, in the playoffs, it’s going to a half-court fistfight at times,” Malone said. “And how do we react to that?”

When Jokic plays like a mere mortal rather than the basketball god we all adore, the Nuggets can be painfully vulnerable. As a championship contender, this team is still too reliant on one player, even a player as magnificent as Joker.

It wasn’t that Jokic was bad against the Bulls, unless you consider his 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists not quite up to the lofty triple-double standards we now all take for granted.

But on a night when Murray needed to hit only twice from 3-point range to establish a franchise record, he played without his characteristic swagger, hitting only one of seven attempts from beyond the arc. Michael Porter Jr. was thoroughly average, settling too often for his jump shot.

And there’s no polite way to describe the sad current state of Denver’s bench. With the playoffs looming a little more than a month away, the additions of Reggie Jackson and Thomas Bryant haven’t helped a unit that is currently a major liability.

By his eighth season in the league, Lakers superstar Magic Johnson had benefited from teammates who had been named to the all-star game 13 times, with six kudos for being all-NBA talent and 10 citations for all-league defense.

At the same point in his career, how many times have Jokic’s teammates been saluted as among the NBA’s best in those three categories? Zero.

While that little history lesson only reinforces the idea Jokic is indeed worthy of being named MVP again, it also begs the question of whether he will have enough help to beat Kevin Durant and Devin Booker of the Suns, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors or Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Clippers when the stars come out in the rugged Western Conference playoffs.

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Whether it’s Draymond Green or some other bully wearing a scowl … can we expect foes in the playoffs to get handsy and physical with the Nuggets?

“Probably … maybe,” Jokic said.

He claimed not to know how to respond to my question, before finally revealing what we all know is the answer.

“Yes,” Jokic said.

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