March 21, 2021
Left: Denver's only first-team NBA All-star team choices . . . 41 years apart.
Right: Nathan MacKinnon.
Handicappping and promoting Nikola Jokic's MVP candidacy is a favored topic of conversation in Colorado.
As it should be.
But, to me, this tends
to be underplayed: In Jokic and the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon, Denver has the top tandem of NHL and NBA stars playing
in the same market.
Yes, there, Denver is a slam-dunk, empty-net No. 1.
I'm confident that isn't cheerleading, new-wave
"fan-alism," attempting to pander to a fan base that in many cases sees through it.
Much of it is the
eye test, but here's something concrete: No other market had players on both of the official first- or second-team NBA and
NHL All-Star teams after the 2019-20 season.
Jokic and MacKinnon both were second-team choices last season.
Go back another season, to 2018-19,
and Jokic was the Nuggets first first-team choice since David Thompson in 1978. (For fun: He joined Truck Robinson, Julius
Erving, George Gervin ... and Bill Walton, who suffered a broken foot with 20 games remaining, also sat out the entire next
season and never was the same the rest of his career.)
For 2020-21, Jokic's MVP chances have improved of late,
with the 76ers' Joel Embiid out indefinitely with a bone bruise in his knee and the Lakers' LeBron James missing time with
a high ankle sprain.
The other possibilities include Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers; Steph Curry of the Warriors; two-time
reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, who also now will miss at least one game with a sprained knee; James Harden
of the Nets; Luka Doncic of the Mavericks; and Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers.
On the hockey side, MacKinnon -- actually a decent
former hoops player in Halifax and an NBA fan -- hasn't slipped after he finished second in the Hart Trophy voting to New
Jersey's Taylor Hall in 2018. He has missed four games this season, but his 32 points still are 18th in the league. Plus,
he has been instrumental in creating opportunities for linemates Mikko Rantanen, who has 17 goals, and Gabriel Landeskog (9)
is unfortunate that Jokic and MacKinnon have been doing this somewhat in the dark in Denver.
The Nuggets and Avalanche have
been alternating appearances at Ball Arena minus fans in the building and without widespread distribution of the Altitude
That'll change in April -- at least on the crowd front. The television troubles seem destined to continue.
A maximum of 4,050
ticketholders will be allowed in the seats in the long-anticipated loosening of the COVID-19 protocols. On Nuggets' nights,
they'll be chanting, "MVP, MVP ..." On Avalanche nights, they could sing, "You gotta have Hart..." (Sorry.
I couldn't resist.)
It will be interesting to see the breakdown of the fans willing to enter the building at this point, even
with only roughly 22 percent of the seats filled.
Will the majority have fought masks, social distancing, restaurant and bar restrictions,
and even disdained vaccinations?
I say that because even with increased numbers of potential fans
managing to obtain vaccinations -- one shot or two, already or soon -- it still seems prudent to ask: We've waited this long
... what's the rush now? Why not wait until next season? Equating this to allowing 12,500 for Rockies games at Coors Field
is ridiculous, given it's an open-air stadium and at last check the roof on the local arena wasn't removed in the name-change
This is far down the list of prioritized concerns, but Colorado largely has been missing great shows.
With the best NHL/NBA
market tandem there is.
Here's my unscientific -- meaning there isn't a points system -- ranking of 16 markets with both hockey
and hoops. I used a bit of license in the New York and Los Angeles metro areas to have two-team pairs -- Lakers/Kings, Clippers/Ducks
(that's the biggest stretch), Nets/Islanders (actually, both Long Island), and Knicks/Rangers. This season, there's also the
asterisk of the Raptors playing out of Tampa, where they's sharing an arena with the Lightning. But I left them paired with
the Maple Leafs here. And the player choices are instinctive, considering both star power and whether they (still) are a team's
Also, with barely half of the NBA and NHL teams involved, some great players won't be on the list.
Antetokounmpo and Connor McDavid, for example. Final disclaimer: I was trying to balance the NBA and NHL considerations, meaning
that if markets seem ranked low despite having a superstar, it's because the representative from the other sport isn't as
prominent on that league's marquee.
Nuggets: Nikola Jokic
Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon
2, LOS ANGELES
Lakers: LeBron James
Bulls: Zach LaVine
Blackhawks: Patrick Kane
Wizards: Bradley Beal
Stars: Joe Pavelski
Celtics: Jayson Tatum
Bruins: David Pastrnak
7, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
Warriors: Steph Curry
Raptors: Pascal Siakam
Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews
Flyers: James van Riemsdyk
Heat: Jimmy Butler
11, NEW YORK
Knicks: Julius Randle
Rangers: Artemi Panarin
12, LONG ISLAND
Nets: James Harden
13, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Ducks: Rickard Rakell
Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
Wild: Ryan Suter
Coyotes: Conor Garland
Pistons: Jerami Grant
Red Wings: Dylan Larkin