Nikola Jokic returns to lead Nuggets past 76ers 126-110

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DENVER — If Nikola Jokic was fired up over his one-game suspension, it was hard to tell.

“He came back and did what we expect him to do,” coach Michael Malone said after Jokic’s seventh triple-double of the season led the Denver Nuggets past the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers 126-100 Saturday night.

“He was a huge part of our attack and made the right play time and time again,” Malone said after watching Jokic score 32 points, pull down 18 rebounds and dish out 10 assists. “He’s proven why he’s an All-NBA type player. Thank goodness he’s in a Nuggets uniform.”

The 76ers gave leading scorer Joel Embiid the night off, robbing fans of a Jokic-Embiid showdown but allowing their star to get a six-day midseason break before their next game Tuesday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Jokic, the Nuggets’ leader in points, rebounds and assists, missed Denver’s rout of the Phoenix Suns on Friday night when he was handed a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in Utah earlier in the week.

Malone said he didn’t think Jokic would be any more fired up than usual for his return and instead would focus on helping “his team win another game at home against a quality team from the Eastern Conference.”

Jokic did just that, scoring 17 first-quarter points on his way to a 20-point, 12-rebound first-half as the Nuggets, who led wire to wire for the second straight night, took a 77-68 lead into the locker room.

“That’s the Joker we like to see, coming out physical and aggressive early,” Torrey Craig said. “When he’s aggressive like that, we’re a great team.”

Through three quarters, Jokic had 28 points, 17 boards and nine assists, and he got the triple-double shortly after re-entering the game midway through the fourth quarter with a half-court pass to Malik Beasley, whose dunk put Denver ahead 118-104.

“He did what he does all the time,” Gary Harris said. “He came out and was aggressive. We asserted ourselves early and got the job done.”

Jokic sat out the final few minutes, leaving him two boards shy of the rare 30-20-10 triple-double.

While his teammates are starting to expect triple-doubles out of him on a regular basis, Jokic isn’t focusing on them.

“I don’t think going into the game I need these points, rebounds. I just play hard and try to win,” Jokic said. “If it happens, I like it, and it’s cool.”

Jimmy Butler (sprained right wrist) and Wilson Chandler (left hamstring tightness) also sat out for the 76ers, who got 22 points from JJ Redick and 20 from Corey Brewer but never led.

“We weren’t 100 percent,” said Ben Simmons, who scored 14. “We were missing Jimmy and Joel and Chandler. Pretty big puzzles on this team.”

This isn’t a game the 76ers will dwell on, though.

“We did all right considering what we had to play with tonight,” Redick said. “Overall, we competed. We made mistakes. Young guys made mistakes. You move on.”

 

Ja Morant admits he was thinking about cameras on baseline during return to court

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Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.

Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.

The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.

That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.

What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.

Jaylen Brown: Celtics nicknamed Grant Williams ‘Ben Simmons’ due to missed 3s

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Celtics rookie Grant Williams on 3-pointers in his first 20 games: 0-for-25.

0-for-25!

Nobody else has ever started a season that cold.

Of everyone else to attempt at least 25 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody made fewer than two. Of everyone else to miss all their 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody attempted more than 17.

Finally, Williams made a 3-pointer in Boston’s win over the Cavaliers yesterday.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, via NBC Sports Boston:

We were calling him Ben Simmons for the longest. But he knocked one down, and knocked them down, too. So, shoutout to both of those guys.

Yes, 76ers guard Ben Simmons barely shoots, let alone makes, 3-pointers. But it seems as if Brown realized mid-answer he shouldn’t provide bulletin-board material to a rival.

Too late.

Simmons has gotten called a coward numerous times by people in Boston due to his refusal to shoot 3s. Becoming the butt of the joke with fellow NBA players? That’s something else entirely.

We’ll see how Simmons responds, but many around him – including Philadelphia coach Brett Brown – have been urging him to hoist more 3s. It’s hard to see this inspiring Simmons to actually change his game.