Three things to know: Jazz players aren’t worried after recent losses, should they be?

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The NBA season has less than a month to go, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Jazz players aren’t worried after back-to-back losses to Timberwolves, should they be?

It was not pretty — and it could cost them the No. 1 seed.

The Utah Jazz just dropped two straight games to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team already eliminated from the playoffs and with the second-worst record in the NBA. Monday’s loss was excruciating because two-time — likely soon to be three-time — Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert blew a switch, allowing D'Angelo Russell to have an uncontested layup for the game-winner. “If I don’t f*** up defensively, we win,” is how Gobert put it.

Two straight losses to the Timberwolves, plus one to the LeBron-less Lakers, and the Jazz have dropped 3-of-5 and their lead over the Suns for the best record in the West and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is down to just one game. The losses lead to many questions: Can the Jazz defend scoring guards well enough to reach the Finals? What happened to the Jordan Clarkson from the first half of the season? What happened to the entire bench? Why won’t Royce O’Neale take a clean-look three, and can he make it if he does?

All of this has Jazz fans worried. Understandably. Utah is an ensemble team, one that can’t have off nights from its third or fifth best players and still beat the Lakers or Clippers of the world. Everything has to be clicking, and the losses to the Timberwolves prove it is not with just three weeks to go in the season.

The Jazz, however, are not worried.

The fantastic Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune asked Gobert if he had any worries: “None. I would be concerned if we were giving up 140 points. … Every team has some nights like this.”

Quin Snyder gave a much more coach-speak answer to the same question, but it was essentially the same — he’s not worried.

They have a point for one key reason: Donovan Mitchell is out. He’s missed the last five games with a sprained ankle (and likely will miss another week or more).

Mitchell is their best player and the one guy on this team capable of flipping a switch, going into attack mode, putting up 40, and taking over a game. He is the one Jazz player who can decide “we’re not losing to Minnesota again” and just flip a switch and make that happen.

The Jazz are an ensemble, and if it is going to struggle if its third or fifth best player is off, we should expect the same when their best player is out. Utah should be whole come the playoffs, and that’s when the real test comes (not against the Timberwolves).

2) Chris Paul ends Knicks’ win streak, Suns keep on rolling

While the Jazz stumble atop the West, the Suns keep on rising.

Phoenix went 3-2 on a tough five-game East Coast road swing and topped it off Monday night knocking off a Knicks team that had won nine in a row. Devin Booker had 33, Mikal Bridges had an efficient 21 points, but it was Chris Paul taking over late — scoring the Suns’ final seven points and sticking the dagger in them with a “how did he get that off” free throw line jumper — that was the difference.

Phoenix is just one game back of the Jazz for the best record in the West, and while Utah stumbles without Mitchell, the Suns keep finding ways to win.

The Suns have a tougher schedule the rest of the way — starting with the Clippers Wednesday then the Jazz on Friday — but this team has surprised the league all season long. Why can’t it keep on doing it now?

3) John Wall is out for the season with a hamstring strain

The basketball gods have had it in for Houston of late: D.J. Augustin, Eric Gordon, Sterling Brown, Dante Exum, and David Nwaba are all out due to injuries, Christian Wood missed the last game, and rookie Jae’Sean Tate had to go to the locker room during the middle of the last game with a tight back.

Now the Rockets will be without John Wall the rest of the season due to a strained hamstring, the team announced.

Wall started the season on fire and, even after slowing down of late, averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists a game this season. While the efficiency is not there anymore, but his confidence is, Wall sees himself as an All-Star in this league.

With two years and $91.7 million left on his current contract, expect Wall to be back as the face of the Rockets next season (they would have to give up so many sweeteners to move that contract it wouldn’t be worth it).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs
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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.

Watch Curry score 35, help Warriors pull away in fourth to beat Raptors

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 129-117 on Friday night.

The high-scoring affair was close until the Warriors pulled away with a 31-point fourth quarter, securing a sweep in the season series.

“It feels like we took better care of the ball tonight,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “When Steph plays like that, the whole game opens up. The whole floor opens up.”

Klay Thompson added 29 points, knocking down six 3-pointers despite beginning the night 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. Though Thompson played in the Warriors’ 126-110 victory in Toronto on Dec. 18, the game Friday was his first time facing the Raptors at home since he tore his ACL in his left knee in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals won by Toronto in Oakland.

Kevon Looney returned to the starting lineup and had 12 points and eight boards as six Warriors players scored in double figures.

The Warriors have won consecutive home games after dropping four straight at the Chase Center.

“We’ve been teetering on either side of .500 for a very long time. I’m kind of sick of it at this point,” Curry said. “(We’ve) got to figure out how to keep moving in the right direction and stack wins no matter how we can get ’em.”

Golden State’s bench outscored Toronto’s 39-26, highlighted by 15 points from Jonathan Kuminga. The 20-year-old missed his first three shots from deep before making four straight 3s in the final three minutes of the third quarter, giving the Warriors a 98-94 lead they did not relinquish.

“He just showed another element to his game that some might have doubted,” Thompson said. “To get on the hot streak he did was very impressive, and for that man, the sky’s the limit for his talent.”

Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 11 assists and the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 24 points in his 33 minutes off the bench.

“We knew what we were coming up against, and we’ve had fairly good success guarding and executing, and tonight we just didn’t do it,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We missed a lot of communication, we just got beat physically.”

Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who began their season-high, seven-game road trip 1-1. Scottie Barnes had 24 points and Pascal Siakam had 21, while Gary Trent Jr. added 17.

Precious Achiuwa contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.