Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic leaves game with injury, Nuggets still beat Suns

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic is the biggest reason for Denver Nuggets’ rise, so when he went down hard Thursday night there was deep concern.

When the news came back that the 21-year-old center had only a left hip strain there was audible relief.

“I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious,” Darrell Arthur said. “He’s probably going to sit a couple of games so we can get him back. We’re definitely going to miss him out there.”

They were happy Jokic was around for most of the game against Phoenix. The Serb had 29 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists before leaving late in Denver’s 127-120 victory over the Suns.

Jokic went down without contact under the Phoenix basket with 1:47 left. He was on the floor for a while with the entire Nuggets team surrounding him. He finally stood and limped to the locker room as the Nuggets closed out their fifth straight home win.

General manager Tim Connelly and veteran Mike Miller stood outside the exam room, and when Jokic came out with his older brothers he walked to the locker room on his own.

X-rays after the game were negative and he was sitting at his locker with ice on his left hip. The team said he will have an MRI done on Friday morning.

“It’s mixed emotions in the locker room,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Nikola is truly beloved by all of his teammates. He has no ego, he’s a young kid, he likes to have fun, he’s a little bit goofy, and the guys love him for that. For all the success that he’s having he’s still the same kid, and that’s why everybody cares about him and respects him.”

Danilo Gallinari added 23 points, and Will Barton had 16 for Denver. The Nuggets have won six of eight.

Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix with 28 points, Devin Booker had 24 and T.J. Warren added 21 points and eight rebounds.

Down by nine in the third quarter, Denver closed the period with a 14-5 run to take a 96-92 lead.

The lead changed hands a couple of times, with Bledsoe leading the way for Phoenix with 14 fourth-quarter points. Jokic kept pace with nine points in the period. His last basket, a short jumper in the lane, gave the Nuggets a 125-118 lead.

“They made some plays and we couldn’t get no stops,” Bledsoe said.

The Nuggets hit 21 of 25 free throws in the second half and outscored the Suns 30-14 from the line. Denver also held a 46-28 advantage on the glass.

“Rebounds, minus-18 for the game; minus-18 at the free-throw line,” Phoenix coach Earl Watson said. “Those are numbers you can’t overcome, but we still had a chance to win.”

TIP-INS

Suns: G Dragan Bender was inactive with right ankle soreness. The rookie missed Tuesday’s game against Minnesota as well. … Jared Dudley was back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday.

Nuggets: G Emmanuel Mudiay sat out his third straight game with lower back soreness. Coach Michael Malone said before the game that he didn’t think Mudiay would miss many more games. … The Nuggets signed F Johnny O’Bryant to a 10-day contract.

MARQUESE TALENT

Watson didn’t need long to decide he wanted Phoenix to get Marquese Chriss last summer in the draft after watching his pre-draft workout.

“The type of things he did athletically above the rim I hadn’t seen done before,” Watson said. “I wanted to shut the workout down after the first 10 minutes. To me it was a no-brainer.”

The 19-year-old Chriss has been solid for the Suns while learning on the job. His demeanor on and off the court reminds Watson of his former teammate, Russell Westbrook.

“Russ had this demeanor off the court of just the nicest person in the world but you get him on the court and you think he can’t be a nice person in real life,” Watson said. “Marquese kind of has that same thing.”

Chriss was in foul trouble Thursday and was held to five points in eight minutes.

 

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.