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Nikola Jokic and Will Barton grew up worlds apart.

Their paths http://www.eaglesauthorizedshops.com/authentic-dallas-goedert-jersey , though, followed a similar route to a big payday with the Denver Nuggets. Jokic signed a max contract worth around $147 million for five seasons, and Barton returned on a four-year deal that could earn him more than $50 million.

As bench players a few years ago, Barton made a comment that stuck with his center.

”He called us Kobe and Shaq,” Jokic recounted Monday at a news conference for the pair. ”We kind of grew together.”

Bonded by similar roads.

From Serbia, Jokic was a second-round pick by Denver in 2014 (41st overall) – a 6-foot-10 project who needed to lose about 30 pounds. He did and has blossomed into one of the top big men in the league.

From Baltimore, Barton was a second-round pick by Portland in 2012 (40th overall) – a sharp-shooter buried on the Blazers’ bench and just needing a chance. He got one when Denver traded for him and became a versatile reserve player/occasional starter.

”I don’t think we are a team that can follow other archetypes in how teams are built,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained. ”We have to find and develop guys. We have to find and develop guys who want to be here long term.”

Jokic is an unassuming star in the making. His 10 triple-doubles last season were the most in a single season for a Nuggets player since Fat Lever in 1987-88. In addition, Jokic is the fifth player in NBA history with 3,000 or more points, 2,000 rebounds and 1 Trent Murphy Color Rush Jersey ,000 assists in their first three seasons, joining names such as Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Maurice Stokes and Sidney Wicks.

”To see how quickly he’s made the jump and how comfortable he is producing against the elite of the league, it’s something I’ve never seen,” Connelly said. ”He’s one of the best players in the NBA.”

The spotlight really isn’t his thing. He’d much rather be back home in Serbia this time of year, where his routine goes something like this: Work out, lunch, go to the stables to check on his two horses and then work out some more. He doesn’t like the attention.

”He’s got this huge contract and life-changing money and everything, but he’s going to still be with his horses, still wear sweat pants, even though we tell him to wear a button-up shirt http://www.buccaneersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-ronald-jones-ii-jersey ,” cracked his brother, Nemanja. ”He feels comfortable. I don’t think anything is going to change about it.”

It won’t. Connelly and Barton were recently talking about that very subject.

”I’ve never seen a guy less enthused about a contract this big – and I say that in a positive sense,” Connelly said.

Jokic even said as much with Josh Kroenke, the vice chairman of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, flanked to his right.

”When I was younger, my dream was not to sign a big contract. My dream was to have fun and win big games, some championships,” Jokic said. ”Winning is the most important thing.”

The Nuggets are coming off a season in which they won 46 games, but the season came down to a winner-take-all scenario in Minnesota, where the Nuggets came up short in overtime to miss out on the playoffs. Jokic is trying to help the Nuggets reach the postseason for the first time since 2012-13 – an even more difficult task with LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

”We’re not too worried about what anybody else is doing,” Kroenke said. ”We’re worried about what we’re doing and our process of winning. We started to hit on a few of those things last couple of years. A very underrated aspect of sports is continuity. These guys having played for several years now, that’s only going to benefit us.”

Especially the bond between Jokic and Barton Donte Jackson Color Rush Jersey , who was acquired in a trade with Portland on Feb. 19, 2015. Barton averaged 15.7 points, five rebounds and 4.1 assists as he alternated between coming off the bench and being a starter.

A big reason he elected to stay in Denver was coach Michael Malone not trying to rein him in.

”Coach Malone lets me be me as a player,” Barton said. ”The style of play I have, a lot of coaches are scared of that, and they won’t let me be me. Coach Malone never boxed me in.

”I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Game 4 lacked the intensity of the three before it, and no overtime heroics were necessary. Instead, the workmanlike Washington Capitals turned in their most complete game of the playoffs, putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets to tie their series at two games apiece.

Not that the Blue Jackets did themselves any favors in the 4-1 loss Thursday night. They came out flat, squandered an early power play, surrendered pucks in the neutral zone and couldn’t seem to get any traction until late in the game.

Columbus had overcome deficits to win the first two games in Washington. When the series shifted to Columbus on Tuesday, the Capitals prevailed on a lucky bounce in double-overtime.

Now the best-of-7 series moves back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday afternoon.

”All we’ve done is gotten on even terms http://www.seahawksauthorizedshops.com/authentic-sebastian-janikowski-jersey ,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. ”We got ourselves in a hole, and we have to continue to push forward. The next game is a real pivotal game. Someone is going to take the lead in this series, and then your back is against the wall. We have to make sure we’re ready to go.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists for the Capitals, who made sure the game was never in doubt. Tom Wilson and Alexander Ovechkin each had a goal and an assist, and T.J. Oshie also tallied.

”We’ve been a confident group all year,” said Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who finished with 23 saves. ”I don’t think we’ve ever doubted ourselves. We came into this building with the right mindset.”

There was no comeback magic this time for the Blue Jackets, who couldn’t seem to shift out of neutral until coach John Tortorella started switching up the lines in the second period.

Boone Jenner scored for Columbus, and Sergei Bobrovsky had 29 saves.

”There’s no sense asking me things about the game,” a bewildered Tortorella told reporters. ”I’m telling you, we laid an egg, so I’m not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked. Let’s move by it and see if we play better Saturday afternoon.”

Washington led 1-0 after the opening period. Just after Columbus’ Thomas Vanek knocked the puck out of the blue paint with his glove Authentic Evan Bouchard Jersey , Kuznetsov shoveled the carom from the right boards out to Wilson, who connected from above the circle at 6:16.

The Capitals got their second halfway through the second period on a power play when Oshie flicked in a rebound. Ovechkin beat Bobrovsky from the right circle early in the third period to give the Caps a three-goal lead.

A few minutes later, Jenner redirected Josh Anderson’s slap shot to make it a 3-1 game and finally give the record Nationwide Arena crowd of 19,395 something to cheer about. Kuznetsov added an empty-net goal with 2:19 left in the game.

”They scored that goal to kind of sneak back in it a little bit, and we didn’t miss a beat,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. ”Our next shift I think we dominated them, and maybe one or two after that one, too. Those are the kinds of things you need to do to win.”

Columbus captain Nick Foligno also couldn’t explain what happened to the Blue Jackets after they had showed so much juice in the first three games.

”We know we have to be way better,” he said. ”Maybe it gives us a little kick in the rear to know we have a real good opportunity in front of us to go back there. Home ice hasn’t been too nice to each team. We feel good about ourselves and the fact that we haven’t played our best hockey yet. We’ve got to find it.”

NOTES: When a best-of-7 series goes to 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins 78.8 percent of the time, according to the NHL. … Washington F Andre Burakovsky missed a second game with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear if he will play in Game 5. … The Capitals have scored the first goal in all four playoff games. … Washington has seven power-play goals in the series. … Ovechkin has three goals and three assists in the four games.

UP NEXT

Game 5 is Saturday in Washington.

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