Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Rookies Nikola Jokic, Myles Turner breaking out

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While Americans focused on what Iowans thought about Donald Trump (this is where we are as a nation?), the NBA season kept on rolling along with some impressive breakout performances. Here is what you need to know from a Monday night around the Association:

1) Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic puts up 27, Raptors’ 11 game win streak ends in Denver.
Toronto’s franchise record 11-game win streak was expected to end somewhere during their six-game road trip this week and next (making way for setting up the All-Star Game in Toronto on Valentine’s Day). Not sure we expected the Rocky Mountains to be where it ended, but Denver has been quietly playing better of late, and the Raptors learned that the hard way.

They also learned that Nikola Jokic is a beast — hulking, active, can score inside or knock down the three, and he can pass. The rookie out of Serbia (second round pick in 2014) scored Denver’s first 11 points on his way to a career-high 27 points and 14 boards, plus he dished out four assists. Jonas Valanciunas couldn’t handle his activity. Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay are starting to develop chemistry — brought along beautifully by coach Mike Malone (that is how you develop players Byron Scott) — that could be a foundation for the team for years. Toronto had a bit of an off night (Kyle Lowry‘s wrist, is it bothering him more than is being let on?), that happens. They are the better team. But for a night we got to see what Jokic and the Nuggets can do.

2) Myles Turner is turning heads in Indiana. Myles Turner was starting his third game for Indiana and had looked good in the first two (28 points, 15 boards, +8), but going against the Cavaliers puts everything on a bigger stage — and Turner was up to the task. He had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, plus he did this to LeBron James:

Turner is still a rookie doing rookie things — with a tie game and less than 10 seconds to go, Turner was supposed to come across and set a screen for Paul George so Monta Ellis could pass to George for a last-second shot to win it. Instead, Turner stood wide-eyed on his side of the court and watched Ellis wave at him, so Ellis was forced to try to take his man one-on-one and got off a tough two that missed. The Pacers went on to lose in OT. It happens with rookies, and there are downs with the ups, but Turner is developing.

For Cleveland, it’s the kind of win good teams get — you need to grind out tough wins on the road sometimes. The Cavaliers are 5-1 under Tyronn Lue and continue to take steps in the right direction, toward more cohesive team play. It’s a process, but the Cavs are going a better direction now.

3) Earl Watson gets the interim job in Phoenix.
After firing Jeff Hornacek as coach, the Suns first call was to much-beloved former point guard Steve Nash to come back and coach. That’s not what Nash wants — he’s got too many off-the-court interests, wants to spend too much time with his family, and has too bad a back to be an NBA coach. (Front office person, from consultant to person with actual power, that may be a better role for him.)

When Nash said no, Earl Watson got the interim job. He will make his debut Tuesday at home against the Raptors. Watson may be a good coach, but he’s not going to have much more success than Hornacek because of the roster — Eric Bledsoe is gone for the rest of the season, Brandon Knight has been banged up and may not be able to go (same with Ronnie Price and T.J. Warren), and the front court is leaning heavily on Jon Leuer. The Suns front office has the real work to do in this franchise. The coaching could have been better, and the coach is always the scapegoat because GMs won’t fire themselves, so Watson gets his chance.

4) Brandon Jennings goes off the backboard to Andre Drummond. This was the highlight of the night — and was two of Drummond’s 21 points to lead Detroit to a 105-100 win over Brooklyn.



5) Russell Westbrook had a triple-double against the Wizards as Thunder pick up an easy win.

The Thunder are playing very well; the Washington Wizards are not. That’s a bit simplistic, but it sums up this game fairly well. The Wizards have fallen from a top-five defense last season to 20th this season, and that is the reason they can’t pick up wins. Although, they are far from the first team to struggle stopping Westbrook, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists on the night. This makes seven triple-doubles for Westbrook on the season — I think the triple-double stat can be vastly overrated, but if you’re racking up seven in a season you’re doing something right.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.