Associated Press

Three things we learned Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis leaves Lakers fans wondering “what if?”

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LOS ANGELES — Notes from deep inside Staples Center on a Sunday night.

1) Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Los Angles, beating Lakers while fans dream of what might have been. You can’t blame Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers for drafting D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick — he’s a gifted passer, shot the ball well in college, and after working him out they saw a potential star. He’s showing promise (at worst, he’s going to be a good point guard in the league for years.)

However, the most talked about player in the 2015 draft was Kristaps Porzingis. He was 7’3” with t a 7’6” wingspan, moved fluidly on the court, and had three point shooting range. However, even the scouts that thought he had the most upside in the draft (him or Karl-Anthony Towns) considered KP a major project that could take years to develop. If he developed at all. He was higher risk and higher reward than Russell (the point guard was going to be solid at worst, where Porzingis had a long line of Euro bigs who went bust in front of him), and most GMs play it safe in that spot rather than risk a potential job-ending bust. Porzingis fell to the Knicks with the fourth pick (one Phil Jackson tried to trade out of on draft night, but that’s another story).

No need to be patient for Knicks fans, Porzingis has already developed into the best player on the team.

Sunday night, Porzingis came to Staples Center and put on a show for Los Angeles fans — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocked shots, leading the Knicks to a 118-112 win over the Lakers. It was the blocks that may have been most impressive.

“I was just trying to protect the rim as always, and they didn’t really have a stretch four so I was able to be closer to the basket,” Porzingis said after the Knicks . “I told my teammates not to foul because I was going to go for the block close to the rim, and I was able to do that.”

Porzingis was scoring inside, hitting threes, showing off an impressive array of shots for a second-year player, and also displaying a great feel for the game. He also got help. In the first quarter, it was Carmelo Anthony passing out of double teams in ways that left the Lakers defense scrambling. In the fourth it was Brandon Jennings hitting threes and pushing the ball in transition (he had 15 in the quarter). Then there was the hot shooting of Derrick Rose, 12-15 for 25 points on the night, with his floater in full effect.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

You couldn’t watch the game and not be wowed by what Porzingis can do. Lakers fans were. And you can’t blame them for daydreaming about what might have been.

2) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak ends at seven games. See, he sucks. Thunder get win anyway. It doesn’t always have to be the Russell Westbrook show for Oklahoma City… okay, yes it does, and he’s usually up to the task, but sometimes he gets help. Westbrook’s triple-double streak ended at seven games against the Celtics, but he still had 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He had 13 in the fourth quarter when the Thunder outlasted the Celtics for the win. He was flat-out phenomenal again.

The difference in this game was angry Russ got some help — Thunder players not named Westbrook shot 15-for-22 in the second half. The Thunder outscored the Celtics 24-13 in the final eight minutes of the game. Despite that, Marcus Smart got a clean look at a three to tie it at the end of regulation, but missed. But the story wasn’t Boston and it’s at times disjointed offense on the night. It was Westbrook falling short of a record but getting the win he wanted more.

3) Minnesota falls again, this time to Golden State, now Thibodeau takes his team back to Chicago.
There is no shame in losing to Golden State, but it’s how the Timberwolves did it that will sting — they caught the Warriors on the fourth game in five nights, coming off a blowout loss, and looking fatigued. This would be a “schedule makers’ loss” for the Warriors.

Except Golden State went on a 25-4 run to open the fourth quarter and pull away enough to hold on for the win. Klay Thompson poured in 14 of his 30 in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 36.8 percent in the fourth, didn’t hit a shot outside the paint in the quarter, plus just didn’t defend well. Sure, the Warriors have another gear that the Timberwolves do not have (actually, a few of them), but this was a tired Warriors team at the end of a road trip that could have been beaten. Instead, it was the Warriors that showed heart.

We all thought Tom Thibodeau would whip the Minnesota defense into shape, they would defend like beasts, and we would see this team take a step forward this season. Clearly, there is some disconnect between Thibodeau and the players right now, and it’s up to the coach and GM to fix that.

But first, Thibodeau has to take his team back to Chicago. That should be interesting.

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.

Jazz: Dante Exum undergoing surgery after shoulder injury

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Jazz point guard Dante Exum hurt his shoulder in a preseason game – an injury that immediately looked like it could be season-ending.

Though Utah doesn’t outright say Exum is done for the year, this doesn’t engender much hope.

Jazz release:

The following is a medical update on Utah Jazz guard Danté Exum who suffered a separated left shoulder on October 6 vs. Phoenix.

After further evaluation, Exum (6-6, 190, Australia) has elected to undergo surgery to stabilize the AC joint of his left shoulder. The surgery is scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 24 in Los Angeles. Further updates will be provided when appropriate.

Exum (obviously) didn’t receive a contract extension before today’s deadline, so he’ll become a free agent next summer. After one full missed season already and two years of limited effectiveness, it’s not even clear Utah will extend Exum a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. The former No. 5 pick almost certainly won’t meet the starter criteria, which means his qualifying offer would be worth $4,333,931 (down from $6,619,903 based on his draft slot).

The Jazz will start Ricky Rubio, and Raul Neto will be the primary point guard behind him. Wings Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles can all share facilitating duties.

Utah will probably be just fine without Exum this season, which speaks to his marginal place long-term.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.