AP

Nikola Jokic gets triple-double as Nuggets hold off Bucks 121-117

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DENVER (AP) Nikola Jokic returned to the lineup with the first triple-double of his career, and the Denver Nuggets held off the skidding Milwaukee Bucks 121-117 on Friday night.

Jokic had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists after missing three games with a strained left hip. He nearly had his triple-double in the first three minutes of the second half, but went without another assist until late in the fourth quarter.

Wilson Chandler scored 23 points and Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets.

The loss was Milwaukee’s 10th in 11 games and came after a big rally in the second half. Jabari Parker had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 23 for the Bucks.

The game was tied at 44 midway through the second quarter when Denver took control. Jokic had nine points in the final 6:38 of the period and grabbed four rebounds to reach a double-double by halftime.

Denver led by as many as 22 in the third quarter, but Milwaukee rallied to cut the deficit to nine heading into the fourth.

Antetokounmpo’s block of Darrell Arthur‘s jumper in the lane prevented Jokic from getting his 10th assist and led to a layup by Parker that made it 107-105.

Faried then followed his own shot and then scored on a fast-break dunk – off Jokic’s assist – to give the Nuggets a six-point lead.

Antetokounmpo made it 113-112 with a 3-pointer, but Denver went on an 8-2 run to seal it.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Milwaukee centers Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, both acquired from Charlotte for Miles Plumlee on Thursday, were undergoing physicals Friday and were not with the team. They are expected to join the Bucks when they play in Phoenix on Saturday.

Nuggets: F Danilo Gallinari is expected to miss at least two games with a left groin strain sustained Wednesday. An MRI on Thursday revealed only a strain, but the Nuggets don’t want to rush him back.

RUMOR MILL

Nuggets coach Michael Malone addressed the subject of trade rumors, specifically ones surrounding Chandler and Emmanuel Mudiay. Malone said Chandler has never asked him to be traded, and the team isn’t shopping the 20-year-old Mudiay.

“In speaking with (general manager) Tim Connelly, I can say he is not actively shopping Emmanuel Mudiay,” Malone said. “The one caveat to that is, everybody’s tradeable in this league. We’re a young team and we have a lot of these valuable, young assets, but it’s not like Tim Connelly is out there trying to get rid of these guys. We really think we have a bright future and Emmanuel Mudiay is one of our young players we value.”

UP NEXT

Bucks: At the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.

Nuggets: At the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.