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.

 

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?

Ben Simmons on Jared Dudley’s assessment: ‘It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon’ (video)

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Ben Simmons keyed the 76ers’ historic offensive turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Nets. He pushed the pace, attacked and created good shots for himself and teammates.

Brooklyn forward Jared Dudley explained Simmons’ improvement.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Simmons:

It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.

Simmons’ dismissive tone makes this bigger than merely his words do. There’s definitely animosity brewing between these teams.

But this “beef” will get only as large as Simmons makes it.

He is great in transition and average in the halfcourt. Dudley’s remark wasn’t an insult. It was a scouting report.

Keeping Simmons out of transition is far easier than done. That’s part of what makes Simmons a star. He frequently creates up-tempo opportunities.

Players can’t be defined by a list of strengths and weaknesses. How often those strengths and weaknesses affect the game is important.

Simmons often makes his strengths count.

There are still questions about just how often he can do that against the best defenses, especially deep into the playoffs. His poor shooting is a liability in the halfcourt.

For now, he’ll create plenty of fastbreaks against the Nets. Simmons is a good enough player to set the style against that defense. He’s better than Dudley, who’s just a role player.

But Dudley is also a smart player. And he’s spot-on here.

Potential top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter, potential first-rounder Ty Jerome leaving Virginia for NBA draft

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De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome just led Virginia to a national championship.

Now, they’re trying to parlay that title into success at the next level.

Hunter and Jerome declared for the 2019 NBA drat with the intent to stay in it, Virginia announced.

Hunter will probably be a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick.

At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a strong base and impressive lateral mobility, the forward has excellent defensive versatility. He’s steady on and off the ball. I question whether he’ll lock up the better athletes he’ll more regularly face in the NBA, but his defensive floor is quite high.

He’s also a good 3-point shooter, though his slow release limits the number of attempts he can get up. Otherwise, Hunter lacks the explosiveness and ball-handling to become a traditional star.

Maybe he’ll be an excellent 3-and-D role player. In this weak-looking draft, that possibility is enough to make him coveted.

Jerome also lacks the burst to possess high upside, but that’s more understandable late in the first round, where he’s projected. The 6-foot-5 guard is a good outside shooter with a knack for getting open. He has plenty of distributing ability for a secondary playmaker but isn’t enough of a threat to create for himself to run an offense through him.

He’s limited defensively, but he has a decent knack for when to gamble when there’s good help – like Hunter – behind him.