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As the injuries and COVID-19 absences have piled up for the Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic has taken on more and more responsibility.

Lately it has not been enough, but the reigning MVP isn’t making excuses. He just keeps putting his head down, trying to do more to get wins and will get another chance at home Friday against the Sacramento Kings.

It would be hard for Jokic to do more than he did Wednesday night when he put up 26 points with 21 rebounds and 11 assists in a 115-109 loss to the Utah Jazz.

“Twenty-six, 21 and 11, and you lose,” acting Nuggets coach Popeye Jones said after Wednesday’s game. “You feel it for him. I think I’ve said it numerous occasions since I’ve been sitting here. Most superstars wouldn’t take it. … He’s a special guy.”

The triple-double was the 64th of his career, and he can try for 65 against the Kings.

Jokic has had to carry a bigger load with long-term injuries to Jamal Murray (knee) and Michael Porter Jr. (back). Neither is coming back soon, and things became tougher with Aaron Gordon playing with a hamstring injury, while Jeff Green and Zeke Nnaji were placed on the health and safety protocol list.

The Nuggets did not practice Thursday, with Green and Nnaji listed as questionable for Friday. Head coach Michael Malone is also the COVID-19 list.

Denver has put together a patchwork lineup on most nights, at times using three players on 10-day contracts to get through a game. When Jokic takes a breather, the Nuggets understandably struggle.

“He’s pulling his weight,” Denver’s Monte Morris said. “We just got to take onus on ourselves to just help him. Do more. Anything. Rebound more, help him out. Let him get a rest on defense.

“I know he gets tired. He’s not like he’s a monster out there where he doesn’t get tired.”

Sacramento has also struggled his season and is currently on a two-game skid. The Kings lost at home to Atlanta on Wednesday night despite Trae Young, John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic sitting out.

It’s not the only time Sacramento has lost to a team that is missing stars. The Kings have dropped games against the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and to Dallas when Luka Doncic was sidelined.

“To be honest with you, we almost seem to play better if they have everybody from the standpoint of being locked in and understanding those situations,” interim Sacramento coach Alvin Gentry said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve played games, obviously, where we’ve had depleted personnel. Every team has been through it in the NBA.

“That should be a nonfactor in my opinion. I think you’ve got to be locked in and ready to play and do whatever is necessary to win games.”

The Kings won’t have Richaun Holmes against Denver after he went into COVID-19 protocol on Saturday. Terence Davis sat out Wednesday’s game with an ankle injury, and Chimezie Metu also is in the protocol and will be out for Friday’s game.

–Field Level Media