DENVER (AP) -- In what the Denver Nuggets saw as the latest sign of disrespect, ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters revealed she hadn't watched two-time MVP Nikola Jokic play before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jokic had 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists in Denver's 132-126 win.
"This is really the first time I've had a chance to watch him play, and I've got to admit, I have been sleeping on this guy. He is spectacular. He is ridiculously good," Salters told Rich Eisen Show guest host Suzy Shuster the next day.
She explained it had been a decade since she'd worked a game in Denver and she couldn't recall watching Jokic, who is in his eighth NBA season, on the road or in the conference finals in the 2020 Florida bubble, also against the Lakers.
The revelation came shortly after Mark Jackson, one of ESPN's analysts calling the series, apologized for leaving Jokic off his five-player MVP ballot. Jokic appeared on the other 99 ballots from a panel of voters. Jackson explained he filled out his ballot like an All-NBA team, with one player per position, and Joel Embiid was his center.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said before Game 2 that he's grown accustomed to his team getting overlooked.
"There are people who are still kind of being introduced to who Nikola Jokic is and the guy just put on a 34-21-14 performance and, oh, by the way, he's averaging a triple-double in the playoffs," Malone scoffed.
Salters said she texted friends during Game 1 to say how impressed she was with Jokic, "and they were like, 'We've been trying to tell you that.' And I admit ... I hadn't really paid much attention to him."
Watching him in person, she added, left her awestruck: "Dude is phenomenal."
ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins accused Jokic of stat-padding back in March, drawing indignation and igniting a debate some felt helped tip the MVP race to Embiid.
Jokic's second-place finish in the balloting kept him from joining Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as back-to-back-to-back MVP winners.