Associated Press

Jamal Murray scores 27, leads Nuggets past Thunder 115-105

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — All season, Western Conference teams have been chasing Golden State.

Now they’re chasing Denver, too.

Jamal Murray scored 27 points, Nikola Jokic added 23 points and 16 rebounds, and Denver beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-105.

With Golden State’s loss to Minnesota, Denver is tied with the Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets huddled around Isaiah Thomas‘ phone to watch the conclusion of the Warriors-Timberwolves game.

“It’s fun,” Murray said. “It’s been a fun journey, especially when you are winning.”

The Nuggets won all four meetings with Oklahoma City, a potential playoff opponent, this season.

“It doesn’t mean much,” Denver forward/center Mason Plumlee said. “If we see them in the playoffs it will be a whole new matchup. They are a good team and we know that and we respect them and we are just looking forward to the next game.”

Murray made 11 of 20 shots and had nine assists without a turnover.

“I liked his poise, his leadership and his maturity,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “That’s not easy to do against that team and this building. They turn people over and they can make you look really bad in a heartbeat, but just Jamal’s control – he never got sped up, he was always in control, running his team and being vocal, and I was excited watching him play.”

Russell Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Paul George had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder.

“I think it was good for the most part for spurts,” Westbrook said. “Not enough to be sustainable.”

Denver led 56-52 at halftime behind 13 points from Murray and 12 points and 12 rebounds by Jokic.

Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 68, but Denver responded with a 14-2 run and took an 86-75 lead into the fourth quarter.

Denver led 95-81 in the final period before Oklahoma City scored five quick points to force Denver to call timeout.

Westbrook went down hard to the ground after being fouled in the fourth quarter, and he got up and started jawing with the Nuggets bench. He scored six points in the next minute, but Murray hit a dagger 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes to play.

“They made some tough ones down the stretch,” Westbrook said. “That’s what the good teams do.”

 

In a surprise to nobody, Hassan Whiteside will pick up $27.1 million option

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The Miami Heat have been looking to trade center Hassan Whiteside for a couple of years now, but finding someone who would take on his massive contract proved impossible (at least at the level of sweeteners the Heat were willing to throw in).

Whiteside’s no fool, he is not leaving that money on the table, and in an obvious and expected move will pick up the $27.1 million on his contract. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported it, but everyone knew this was coming.

Whiteside stands to make $27.1 million next season and plans to inform the Heat in the days before the June 29 deadline. Once he formally opts in, the Heat will be about $4 million over the projected $132 million luxury tax threshold, factoring in Miami’s first-round draft pick and forward Ryan Anderson’s expected buyout.

Bam Adebayo is now the starting center in Miami, Whiteside will make that money to come off the bench. That said, Whiteside put up numbers — 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, and he does it efficiently — and he wants more minutes to prove he could do more.

Miami would be more than happy to trade him and let him have those minutes on another team. We’ll see if that massive expiring contract can entice some teams into a trade.

Miami wants to be aggressive this summer, but they are already into the luxury tax, which ties their hands.

Report: Pacers to target Ricky Rubio, also talking to Pelicans about No. 4 pick

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Indiana would have been a tough out come the East playoffs, that is until Victor Oladipo went down (ruptured right quadriceps tendon). They still believe with a healthy Oladipo this coming season they can move into the upper echelon of the East. But they need some roster upgrades.

Specifically at the point guard spot. D'Angelo Russell‘s name has come up, but target, but Ricky Rubio seems to be their top target, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

Unrestricted free-agent point guard Ricky Rubio will be a top target of the Pacers, according to multiple league sources. Rubio would replace point guards Darren Collison and Cory Joseph—both unrestricted free agents—and share the backcourt with Victor Oladipo, who ruptured his right quadriceps tendon this past season. Rubio is a worse shooter than Collison and Joseph, but would provide a significant defensive and playmaking upgrade to better complement Oladipo’s score-first style.

Rubio gets a bad rap from some fans because he’s not a great shooter. However, he’s developed into a good floor general who runs a team well, can defend his position, and still throws some stunning passes. He could help a lot of teams, the Pacers being one.

The Pacers also might try to move up in the draft.

The Pacers have also discussed a trade with the Pelicans for the no. 4 pick in the draft, according to league sources.

You could remove the phrase “the Pacers” from that last sentence and put 27 team names in there and it would be accurate. The Pelicans have shopped that pick all over the league.

One way or another, expect the Pacers to be aggressive this summer. They are a team that believes they are one player away and they have both the cap space and trade assets to get something done. They want to open their championship window.

 

Report: Chris Paul demanded trade after Rockets’ second round loss

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Things apparently aren’t as bad as they have seemed recently between James Harden and Chris Paul.

They’re worse.

Paul demanded a trade after the Rockets’ playoff exit because that relationship couldn’t be salvaged, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reports.

Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said.

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise…

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Rockets GM Daryl Morey denied that Paul is available in an interview on the Dan Patrick Show today.

“We were the best team down the stretch. We’ve spent a lot of time putting together two superstars. We’re trying to add a third,” Morey said. “Going backward from that doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”

Paul is not easy to play with, just ask Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the highest IQ and most competitive players in the league, but that leads him to be relentless on teammates, continually pushing and correcting them, and that led to tension in Los Angeles.

Harden, who is the reigning MVP and finished second two of the previous three years (and that likely will be three-of-four after this year’s results are released), is a guy who is not going to put up with that.

At the heart of the issue is style: James Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul prefers a more fluid offense. Coach Mike D’Antoni, the guy who does not have a contract beyond next season (extension talks faltered), gives a lot of leeway to Harden. Paul, among other players, complained to D’Antoni about that. Nothing changed.

Still, it’s not going to be easy to split this duo up.

As a tandem they have made the Rockets the second best team in the West for two years running, and if not for CP3’s hamstring injury in 2018 they might both have rings. Do the injuries to Kevin Durant (who might leave the Warriors anyway) and Klay Thompson change their perception and approach to this relationship? Together they are a serious threat to win a title and they know it.

There’s also the practical matter: Trading Paul is going to be very difficult and might require the Rockets to throw a sweetener (a pick or young player) in the deal to get it done. It’s not that CP3 is terrible — he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season, and he remains the best floor general in the game — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and most importantly is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money to take on.

The Rockets are rumored to have talked to teams seeking a point guard (Phoenix, for example) but sources have said there has been little traction on any deal. And again, Morey denied he was available (which he would do whether or not that was true).

Just as the door to the Finals through the West swings wide open, the Rockets are stumbling and may not be able to walk through it.

Report: Knicks, who have No. 3 pick, to work out Darius Garland

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Duke forward R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. He wants to join the Knicks. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

Perfect match?

Maybe not.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Maybe this is just New York doing its due diligence. The Knicks could also be trying to drum up trade interest among teams that want Garland.

But this feels a little like 2015, when Jahlil Okafor was the consensus No. 2 prospect for most of the pre-draft process but D'Angelo Russell emerged late as the Lakers’ No. 2 pick.

Barrett is a flawed prospect. He didn’t hit jumpers efficiently at Duke. His decision-making is suspect. He’s too left-handed dominant. He rarely uses his defensive tools. There’s a lot to like, to be sure. Barrett has nice size, athleticism and physicality. He’s a good ball-handler and playmaker. He seems built for a leading role.

But it wouldn’t shock me if a team likes Garland more. The point guard is a knockdown shooter with the ball-handling and footwork to get that shot off. He needs work as a distributor and lacks Barrett’s defensive potential.

Garland might not be as good as Barrett right now. But Garland’s path to success might be a little more projectable.