Vucevic: No doubt, Nuggets' Jokic deserves third-straight MVP

The idea of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic winning a third consecutive MVP award has sparked some lively debate on sports talk shows.

With the Bulls headed to Denver for a game on Wednesday, Nikola Vucevic put in a plug for his fellow European. Both players are from the former Yugoslavia, Jokic a native of Serbia and Vucevic from Montenegro.

"I think so for sure," Vucevic said when asked if Jokic deserves another MVP trophy. "You take him out of that team, it's not even close to the same team. The things he does, you look at his stats this year, the efficiency he's playing at, everything he's doing, it's very impressive.

"It's not like he's putting up numbers and they're not winning, they're 24-0 when he has a triple-double."

The Nuggets also have a seven-game lead in the Western Conference and entered Tuesday's action just a half-game behind Milwaukee for the NBA's best record.

The Bulls snapped a 13-game losing streak in Denver last season while Jokic sat out with a wrist injury.

Vucevic first met Jokic during the latter's rookie season with the Nuggets in 2015-16. Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas used to work in Denver and had a hand in drafting Jokic in the second round. That same year, the Nuggets swapped first round picks with the Bulls, with the Bulls moving up to take Doug McDermott while Denver chose Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic.

"Great friend of mine," Vucevic said. "He really exploded out of nowhere and has been playing at a very high level ever since. You can tell when he plays basketball, it's a joy for him, it's easy, it just comes natural to him. He enjoys playing for his teammates, so it's fun to watch."

Jokic has produced a couple of eye-opening stats this season. He averages a triple-double, ranking third in the league in rebounds and fourth in assists. And he's shooting 63.4% from the field. At the moment, he's the heavy betting favorite to win MVP.

"He plays in a winning way," Vucevic said. "He makes the right play, he doesn't force, he doesn't try to do something just to do it. It's all within the flow of the game. They have the best record. All the arguments are there for him.

"People on TV who have to say something to say it, to create something. It is what it is. He's done his part. I think he deserves to get another one, the way he's playing. It's not even a question. We'll see what happens."

The Bulls (29-36) are struggling to stay in contention for the play-in tournament, so every game is important. With the Big Ten Tournament moving into the United Center this week, they'll play just two games over a span of nine days, at Denver and Houston.

Alex Caruso did not practice Tuesday as a precaution, since he's been dealing with a sore foot. But Caruso is not listed on the injury report for Wednesday's game.

The Bulls signed Justin Lewis to a two-way contract on Tuesday for the second time in the past nine months. They originally locked up the 6-7 forward from Marquette on draft night. But during the summer, he suffered a knee injury that needed surgery. So the Bulls released him, but he stayed in town to rehab the injury.

Lewis was on the court shooting after practice at the Advocate Center, but he's not expected to see game action for the Windy City Bulls this season.

The Bulls have had five different two-way players this year - Malcolm Hill, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Carlik Jones, Terry Taylor and now Lewis.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic (15), left, and Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) confer in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in Denver. Associated Press
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Denver. Associated Press
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