There is a belief that people should not meet their heroes, and Houston’s Alperen Sengun found out why Monday night.
Sengun, 20, idolized Nikola Jokic while honing his basketball skills and got a chance to see him up close when the Rockets played the Denver Nuggets on Monday. Jokic dropped 32 points on Houston, many of those coming while Sengun was guarding him, in a 129-113 win over the Rockets.
The two teams play again in Denver on Wednesday night.
Sengun played against the Nuggets twice last season, his rookie year, but Monday he got extended time defending the two-time MVP. He held his own, scoring 18 points, but lost the matchup — personally and as a team.
But he expressed that he wasn’t disappointed.
“It felt good. I was excited to play against him,” Sengun said. “I played good, and I feel like he played good. It was a good game for us. We’re going to look to the next game.”
Houston had won two in a row before Monday, its first winning streak of the season, but couldn’t stay with Denver in the second half. Jokic was a big part of it, as was Jamal Murray, who scored a season-high 31 points.
It was the most points he has scored since March 2021, a month before he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that kept him sidelined until this season.
“He’s getting more confident, propping his body and everything that comes with it, taking his time to get back,” teammate Bruce Brown said. “He’s back to being himself.”
The Rockets had trouble stopping Murray, who was a big catalyst in the third quarter when the Nuggets pulled away. Houston guard Kevin Porter Jr. said Murray is a tough matchup for anyone.
“He can really score. I feel like people don’t give him enough credit, what he’s able to do inside-out,” Porter said. We’ve got to respect the three but he was hitting that floater tonight. He was a tough guard.”
Denver is getting healthier but won’t have Michael Porter Jr. (heel) or Jeff Green (knee) available for the rematch against the Rockets. Ish Smith is back from his calf injury and had eight assists in the win.
Playing a second game in three days in the same city has a playoff aura to it, but it also gives Houston a chance to get more acclimated to the altitude. Kevin Porter Jr. said he could feel the effects of the thin air and sticking around will help.
“Get some days under, get our wind, get our breath, just having more control with your wind and stuff definitely helps,” he said. “So we get to stay here, get a little comfortable with it. Definitely going to go out with a pep in our step the second game.”
It will give Sengun a second shot at getting the better of his idol, too, now that the nerves of playing against Jokic are past him.
“I’m forgetting everything when I get on court,” he said. “He’s a good post-up player and I’m learning how I can guard when he’s playing post-up.”