Nuggets move past Clippers into third place in West after beating them 110-104

Denver Nuggets v LA Clippers
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LOS ANGELES — Denver is missing some key pieces to its backcourt. As long as the Nuggets have Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., they remain one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

Jokic had 30 points and 14 rebounds, Porter scored 25 points and Denver extended its winning streak to five games with a 110-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night to move into the third seed in the West.

“We are winning games. The offense hasn’t been pretty, but it has been a top-five defense as of late,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Jokic showed once again on the road against a good team why he is the front-runner for MVP. He puts the team on his back. That is what big players do.”

Denver, which is a half-game in front of Los Angeles at 43-21, is 9-1 since Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL in his left knee on April 12. Murray, who is rehabbing in LA, was at the game.

It is also missing guards Monte Morris and Will Barton – who average a combined 23 points – due to hamstring injuries.

“We wanted to test ourselves and see where we were at with some guys out. It was a big win and we were definitely excited,” said Porter, who is averaging 25.6 points since Murray’s injury.

Jokic scored 18 points during the third quarter, including seven straight during a decisive run that would give the Nuggets the lead for the rest of the game.

Los Angeles trailed 52-47 at halftime but Reggie Jackson‘s step-back 3-pointer completed a 10-4 run at the start of the third quarter to put the Clippers back on top. On the ensuing trip down the floor, LA lost momentum when Paul George received a flagrant 1 foul with 8:54 remaining in the period for a shoulder block and push to Facundo Campazzo.

A pair of free throws by Campazzo and seven points by Jokic put Denver up 65-57 midway through the quarter. Denver would lead by as many as 11 in the period and went into the fourth up 83-73.

PJ Dozier‘s pullup jumper gave the Nuggets a 101-91 lead with 3:32 remaining in the game before the Clippers scored seven straight points to make it a one-possession game. After a Denver timeout, DeMarcus Cousins was called for a foul as Jokic was attempting a 3-pointer. Jokic made all three free throws to give the Nuggets breathing room.

Campazzo then added a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 107-98 with 1:08 remaining.

“Porter continues to develop his game and the whole bench has been stepping up and playing well. Everyone is bringing the energy that we need,” Jokic said.

George led the Clippers with 20 points but shot 5 of 21 from the field. Rajon Rondo added a season-high 18 points and Kawhi Leonard, who returned returned to the lineup after missing the last five games due to right foot soreness, scored 16.

Cousins also scored 16 for LA (43-22), which has dropped its last three and had a seven-game home winning streak snapped.

“We couldn’t follow the game plan as good as we needed to. Just a lot of small things that we have to continue being detailed about and understand what we are trying to do,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought Kawhi really eased into it. He didn’t play with his normal pace of attacking and getting to the basket. Not playing in nine or 10 games though, that is to be expected.”

The Clippers started off strong, making their first seven shots from the field to take an 18-7 lead. But Los Angeles’ hot shooting didn’t continue as it went 10 of 36 the remainder of the first half.

Denver narrowed the margin to one 28-27 at the end of the first quarter and then took its first lead with 10:37 remaining in the second quarter on JaMychal Green‘s 3-pointer. The game was tied at 36-all before the Nuggets scored eight straight points for their largest lead of the first half.

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.

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

CrawsOver Pro-Am
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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.