Suns easily top shorthanded Jazz, now tied for best record in NBA

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns had their All-Star backcourt on the court and playing well. As for the Utah Jazz, their All-Star backcourt was injured and on the bench.

The results were predictable.

Devin Booker scored 31 points, Chris Paul had 12 points and nine assists and the Suns pulled into a tie for the best record in the NBA by cruising past the Jazz 121-100 on Friday night.

Phoenix is actually atop the NBA, by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over the Jazz.

Two nights after clinching their first postseason spot in 11 years, the Suns kept rolling and never trailed after the opening minutes.

Booker shot 13 of 19 from the field, hitting three step-back jumpers late in the third that brought roars from the crowd. The third one came in front of the Suns’ bench and was over Utah’s 7-foot center Rudy Gobert. Ayton and Bridges were celebrating so hard with Booker that they almost forgot to let him back on defense.

“That’s just having fun with it man,” Booker said, grinning. “Not everyone has a vibe like this, an energy like this. It’s a great environment to get better in.”

Mikal Bridges added 18 points. Deandre Ayton had 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Suns and Jazz both have a 45-18 record. If they’re tied at the end of the season, Phoenix would claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs because they swept the three-game season series.

The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic, who scored 22 points. Utah has lost three of its last four games.

“I think our physicality wasn’t there,” Gobert said. “Those guys are good but I feel they were a little bit too comfortable. Our offense affected our defense, too. When we turn the ball over or take a bad shot they were able to run on us. Then they get going and get confidence.”

Utah was playing without their All-Star backcourt of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Conley was out because of a tight hamstring, while Mitchell has a sprained ankle. Without them on the floor, Phoenix flourished.

“Those are tough games to play in emotionally,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You’re ramped up to play against the best team in the league and they sit a few guys, you can have a letdown. But we handled business tonight.”

The Suns took a 25-point lead by midway through the second quarter when Cameron Payne‘s 3-pointer made it 50-25. The Jazz managed to cut the deficit to 68-52 by halftime.

Booker led the Suns with 16 before the break, while Bridges had 13. Bogdanovic had 15 for the Jazz.

The Jazz pulled within 70-57 in the third quarter, but couldn’t get any closer. The Suns had their lead back up to 96-72 by the start of the fourth and eased to the win.

“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “In games like this when certain players are not able to play, your margin for error is really small.”

One reason the Suns have been among the NBA’s best teams is their best players have stayed healthy. Ayton and Bridges have played in all 63 games this season. Paul has played in 62 and Booker’s been available for 59.

They’ve had to mix and match some with their second unit. Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, Abdel Nader and Payne have all missed chunks of time.

“We have a tough group,” Williams said. “They work really hard so they can play through bumps and bruises of the season.”

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.

https://twitter.com/CallieCaplan/status/1619016699289956353

Boban? Crowder? Holmgren? Exploring player votes for All-Star starters

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Four NBA players — not one as a joke, but four… as a joke — voted for injured Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to start the NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA All-Star Game starters were announced Thursday, chosen from a weighted vote of fans (50%), media (25%) and current players (25%).

While most NBA players may take their All-Star Game starter votes seriously, some do not — they vote for friends, college teammates, guys with the same agent, or just whoever they feel like.

Which is comedy gold once we comb through the public vote (Note: names are not attached to who cast a vote, but we do see who got votes). This season, that list of players getting at least one vote to be an All-Star starter include:

Bol Bol (Orlando Magic, he got six votes)
Willy Hernangomez (New Orleans Pelicans, he got five votes)
Juancho Hernangomez (Toronto Raptors, he got three votes)
Omer Yurtseven (Miami Heat, he got three votes)
Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers, he got five votes)
Ochai Agbaji (Utah Jazz, he got four votes)
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Oklahoma City Thunder, he got three votes)
Bismack Biyombo (Phoenix Suns, he got three votes)
Jae Crowder (Phoenix Suns, he got two votes)
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat, he got two votes)
Blake Griffin (Boston Celtics)
Boban Marjanovic (Houston Rockets)
Kemba Walker (Dallas Mavericks)
Kendrick Nunn (Los Angeles Lakers)
Ish Smith (Denver Nuggets)
Torrey Craig (Phoenix Suns)
Luka Garza (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings)
Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers)
R.J. Hampton (Orlando Magic)
Johnny Davis (Washington Wizards)
Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers)
MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee Bucks)
Paul Reed (Philadelphia 76ers)

That is just a fraction of the entire list.