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Michael Porter Jr. says he is pain free after second back surgery, hopes to play early in season

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Concerns about Michael Porter Jr.‘s back — he only played five games at Missouri following a microdiscectomy, then needed another surgery this summer — was the primary reason a guy once seen as a top three player in this draft class slid down to the Nuggets at No. 14 last June.

Denver, with a deep team looking to make the playoffs this season, can be patient and gamble on the potential payoff down the line.

Porter, like all players, is just eager to get on the court. He says he is now pain-free after the second surgery and hopes to be on the court early in the season. He spoke with Chris Forsberg of ESPN at Sunday NBA annual rookie photo shoot:

“I finally feel, like, good,” and he is hoping to be ready for game action around the time the season tips in mid-October.

“I don’t have a date but I’m hoping to be back for the beginning of the year. Gotta heal up, but I feel great,” Porter said. “I’m able to get on the court a little bit right now, do some different things. But my rehab has definitely been very conservative. They’re really taking it easy with me, being patient with me.”

Players tend to be the worst predictors of when they will return to the court following injuries — they think of themselves and invincible and they are competitors who just want to play. Teams and team doctors tend to take a longer view.

Which is to say, expect it to be later than mid-October before we see Porter Jr. on the court. The Nuggets have not given a timeline.

Porter likely will be eased back in during the course of the season, but on a team hunting a playoff slot in the deep West, there are not going to be a lot of “we need to develop this guy slowly” minutes available. Porter can play the three or the four, but the Nuggets are pretty stacked along the front line (Paul Millsap and Trey Lyles likely get the bulk of the minutes at the four), however, at the three there could be minutes behind Will Barton and others. We’ll see how the Nuggets’ rotation shakes out once the season starts, and where Porter can fit into it.

It may be frustrating for Porter, but the Nuggets are going to bring him along slowly. This is a long play for them, not about getting him out there as fast as they can.

Royce O’Neale agrees to four-year, $36 million contract extension to stay in Utah

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Royce O'Neale is a name casual NBA fans may not recognize.

However, GMs around the league recognize him is the kind of role player teams need to win. O’Neale is asked to guard the opposing team’s best wing player nightly, while on the other end of the court he’s shooting 44.3 percent from three. He’s become a critical part of Utah’s rotation.

So the Jazz have locked him up with a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Jazz — who have won 16-of-18 — just got Mike Conley back in the rotation, and have jumped up to a top-four seed in the West (as of this writing). Things are looking up, and also they have set themselves up well financially for the future.

Bigger bills are coming in Utah, in the summer of 2021 the Jazz will need to max out Donovan Mitchell with an extension plus re-sign Rudy Gobert. Which is why locking in a quality role player like O’Neale at a fair price now is a smart move.

Watch Marcus Smart set Celtics’ record with 11 threes, still not enough to beat Suns

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BOSTON (AP) — Devin Booker had 39 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists and the Phoenix Suns overcame a franchise-record 11 3-pointers by Boston’s Marcus Smart and beat the Celtics 123-119 on Saturday night.

Smart shot 11 for 22 from 3-point range and finished with a career-best 37 points. His performance marked the first time in NBA history that a player made 11 or more 3-points in a losing effort, according to Stats.

Deandre Ayton had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Mikal Bridges added a career-best 26 points for the Suns, who have won four of their last five games.

Jayson Tatum scored 26 points and Gordon Hayward added 22 for Boston, which has lost three straight and six of eight.

Three years ago, Booker scored 70 points in a loss to the Celtics in TD Garden. He finished an assist shy of his first career triple-double.

The Celtics were missing two of their top three leading scorers – Kemba Walker (team-best 22.1 per game), out with left knee soreness, and Jaylen Brown (20.0), sidelined for the second straight game with a sprained right thumb.

Boston cut its deficit to 90-85 early in the fourth, but Dario Saric and Bridges answered with consecutive 3s. The Celtics had it down to 114-111 on Daniel Theis‘ breakaway dunk with about a minute left, but Bridges hit a jumper in the lane with 37 seconds to play.

Booker’s two free throws sealed it with 4.8 seconds left.

The Suns led 60-51 at halftime and answered – mainly behind Booker and Ayton – any surge by Boston. The lead never fell below seven in the quarter, with Booker scoring nine points and Ayton getting eight.

The loss of two key players showed for the Celtics in the first quarter when the Suns broke in front 26-10 before Boston’s bench helped spark a 15-0 run.

 

LeBron James gets ‘M-V-P’ chants in Houston

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Laker fans are everywhere.

Decades of stars and success — from Magic Johnson through Kobe Bryant — turned the Lakers into the biggest franchise brand in the NBA, the only thing that might rival it is LeBron James‘ brand. Combine those two and there seem to be loud, at points obnoxious, Lakers fans in every arena.

Case in point: LeBron James got “M-V-P” chants in Houston while the Lakers beat the Rockets.

LeBron called it humbling.

LeBron’s play this season — 25.5 points and a career-high 10.9 assists a game, playing his best defense in years and leading the Lakers to a West best 34-8 record — has him in the hunt for a fifth MVP award (although he’s not who we would vote for right now).

Expect to hear these chants in a lot more buildings this season.

Check out Stephen Curry the sideline reporter (VIDEO)

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Stephen Curry, the most overpaid sideline reporter in the NBA.”

That’s how Curry was introduced on the Warriors broadcast Saturday night as he took over some sideline reporting duties while still out after fracturing his hand four games into the season. What else has he got to do?

Above you can see the best of Curry’s reactions, or check out his walk-off interview with Eric Paschall:

I’d say he shouldn’t quit his day job, but that job also pays a little better.

By the way, the Warriors ended their losing streak with a 109-95 victory over Orlando. D'Angelo Russell led the way with 26 points.