Jokic scores 31 points with 11 assists, leads Nuggets past Bucks 129-106
DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 31 points and 11 assists, Jamal Murray finished with 26 points and nine assists, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 129-106 on Saturday night in a late-season showdown of the NBA’s conference leaders.
Michael Porter Jr. scored 19 points for West-leading Denver (50-24), which outscored East-leading Milwaukee 68-40 in the second half.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 31 points — just seven in the second half — and grabbed nine rebounds for the Bucks (53-20).
“It’s better to win games, but our goal is to do something in a playoffs,” Jokic said.
The battle of the top teams in each conference — and two strong MVP candidates — was more competitive than the teams’ first meeting, won by the Bucks 107-99. Then, the Nuggets held out four starters — Jokic, Murray, Porter and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — in the game in Milwaukee on Jan. 25. Denver had played the night before in New Orleans and opted to rest its stars.
The circumstances were reversed, with the Bucks having played in Utah on Friday night.
“We still play, still got to be better, there’s no excuses about that,” Khris Middleton said. “But I’m sure for a lot of fans, a lot of people out there, they’d love to see healthy teams, or not coming off back to backs.”
Antetokounmpo scored 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting in the first half, with all but one of those field goals coming at the rim. Murray (20 points) and Jokic (17 points) kept Denver within three at the break, and then the Nuggets outscored Milwaukee 34-19 in the third quarter to take a 97-85 lead.
Jeff Green dunked on Antetokounmpo to open the fourth as the Nuggets’ lead swelled to 15 points. Grayson Allen hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 103-91 with 9:54 left, but Milwaukee went scoreless for 4:10 while Denver built a 111-91 lead.
“It was an amazing dunk,” Jokic said of Green’s dunk. “I didn’t think he was going to do it. He almost fell down, so it was a really nice dunk.”
Antetokounmpo went to the bench with 5:54 left and didn’t return.
The Bucks lost some composure in the third quarter. Bobby Portis Jr. was called for a take foul on Jokic and, immediately after, a technical. Denver hit both free throws and Bruce Brown hit a 3-pointer for a 84-76 lead. Minutes later, Brook Lopez got a technical while sitting on the bench.
Antetokounmpo picked up Milwaukee’s third technical with 6:41 left in the game.
“It was a night where we were grumpy, and it happens,” coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Denver coach Michael Malone got a technical late in the first quarter, and it was to prevent Jokic from getting one. Jokic was frustrated by the physical play, so during a timeout Malone told him he would get the technical.
“I can get kicked out, he can’t. I understand the pecking order here,” Malone said.
Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee
Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.
“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”
With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.
Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.
Trae Young ejected after throwing the ball at the Ref 😳 pic.twitter.com/4f4Tj7vHlM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 25, 2023
“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.
Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.
The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.
Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday
Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images
What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.
Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.
There’s strong optimism Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards (ankle) could make his return Sunday against the Golden State Warriors, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) March 25, 2023
Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.
Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.
Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.
Ben Simmons Medical Update: pic.twitter.com/kRcxsjrHLG
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 24, 2023
A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.
With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.
Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.
Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).
The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.