NBA Power Rankings: Everyone is chasing the Suns (and a good trade)

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

There wasn’t much question on who would top these NBA Power Rankings because the Suns are steamrolling the league. The interesting thing around the league right now is trade talk, and we delve into that with a number of teams.

Suns small icon 1. Suns (41-9, Last Week No. 1). How good are the Suns? They went 13-1 in January and that is their second best month so far (16-0 November). The Suns don’t look like a team that needs a roster upgrade, but they are trying to trade Dario Saric (out with an ACL tear) and his $9 million contract for help on the wing. Eric Gordon is one name to watch in that mix (but the Suns would have to send out a pick, too). Phoenix starts a four-game road trip in Atlanta Thursday that includes playing the Bulls and 76ers.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (39-13, LW 3). Winners of seven in a row, and they are doing it with balance — top 10 in the NBA in offense and defense over their last eight games — and with a lot of help from role players such as Jordan Poole, who had 31 against the Spurs. Draymond Green will certainly get the nod as an All-Star Game reserve from the coaches, but whether he plays or sits out to rest his back/calf injury is up in the air (although the smart money is on him sitting out).

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (31-19, LW 8). Fans in Philadelphia are going to throw a party when Ben Simmons is finally traded, but that may end up being a summer BBQ party rather than one in February. Of course Simmons trade rumors will fly all over the place for the next eight days — how about for Bradley Beal in Washington — but Morey himself said a trade was “less likely than likely” before the deadline, and most sources around the league tell NBC Sports that it will take a radical shift by another team or the 76ers (or both) to get a deal done before the deadline.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Grizzlies (35-18, LW 5). Are the Grizzlies locked in as the No. 3 seed in the West this season? They are 4 games up on the No. 4 seed Jazz and 4.5 games back of the No. 2 seed Warriors. The Grizzlies have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, they are more likely to move up than down, but they would need the Warriors or Suns to stumble and help them out. Whatever happens, the Grizzlies will keep putting on a show nightly. Like when Desmond Bane chased down and blocked a Spencer Dinwiddie dunk, which became a Ja Morant windmill dunk on the other end (the bucket did count after a review).

Heat small icon 5. Heat (32-20, LW 2). Will the Heat have any representatives at the All-Star Game in Cleveland in a few weeks? Probably, it’s hard to imagine the coaches will not pick Jimmy Butler as a reserve, but he’s missed considerable time the first half of the season, so anything is possible. Bam Adebayo certainly is an All-Star level player, but he’s only played in 27 games. Is that enough? The Heat have lost three in a row — one in triple-OT to the Raptors — and are now 0-2 to open their six-game road trip (which does get easier from here).

Cavaliers small icon 6. Cavaliers (31-21, LW 7). Cleveland is active at the deadline trying to bring in more depth, but their best trade chip is the contract of Ricky Rubio (out for the season due to a knee injury). That alone is not going to land them Caris LeVert, or even Eric Gordon. The Cavaliers sit as the No. 4 seed in the East and one reason to think they can hold on to that seed and host a first-round playoff game is they have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the top six in the conference.

Bucks small icon 7. Bucks (32-21, LW 4). When Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all on the court together this season, the Bucks still have a +11.7 net rating, which isn’t that far off the +12.9 they were last regular season, on their way to the title. However, it sure didn’t look like that when the Bucks got blown out by 36 by the Nuggets Sunday, despite all three being on the court together for that one. “People are coming for us. People are hunting us right now. They get excited when they see, `Milwaukee Bucks, world champs.’ We’ve got to play every single night hard and build that habit,” Antetokounmpo said.

Mavericks small icon 8. Mavericks (29-22, LW 9). Dallas is an interesting team to watch heading into the trade deadline. Teams are calling and asking about Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith, but the Mavericks have no intention of trading either unless an offer blows their doors off, reports Marc Stein in his newsletter. Dallas’ defense has been good this season but the offense around Luka Doncic is not enough to be a title contender, and can they trust Kristaps Porzingis to be there every night. Dallas needs a real No. 2, but that is more likely an offseason move than a deadline one.

Bulls small icon 09. Bulls (32-18, LW 12). Look for Chicago to add some depth at the trade deadline, maybe Dennis Schroder out of Boston, maybe veteran Paul Millsap for the front line, but someone. The Bulls defense is still struggling with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out injured, but a soft stretch of the schedule has allowed them to win 4-of-5 and climb back on top of the Eastern Conference. Also, Zach LaVine is a lock to be an All-Star reserve.

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (28-22, LW 11). While an East Coast center is getting all the recent MVP buzz, if there was a vote today Nikola Jokic likely would win back-to-back awards. He has seven triple-doubles in January while averaging 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 9 assists a game. And he sparked a five-game winning streak, which came to an end Tuesday night in Minnesota. The Nuggets are 4-1 so far on their six-game road trip, with a game against a (likely shorthanded) Utah team on Wednesday closing it out.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (30-21, LW 6). The Jazz have lost five in a row and went 4-12 in January, much of that due to injuries (Joe Ingles is now out for the season with a torn ACL, Donovan Mitchell has missed the last 7 games due to a concussion, Rudy Gobert the last four with a calf strain), but the rough month also has exposed other concerns. One remains dealing with or having a small ball lineup — Rudy Gay was supposed to solve that problem, but Gay at center lineups have a -17.9 net rating. Utah will get healthy and should hold on to a top-six seed, but keeping a top-four seed and home court in the first round will be tougher. Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Jazz to finish with 50 wins, but for the Nuggets to have 49 and the Mavericks to have 48. That’s not much margin for error.

Nets small icon 12. Nets (29-21, LW 10). The Nets have gone 2-6 since Kevin Durant went out with a sprained knee, and the problem has been the defense, which has a 118.3 net rating in those games (28th in the league). The offense, with James Harden and Kyrie Irving, has held up well, it’s getting stops that’s a problem. Brooklyn is still working to find a new home for Paul Millsap via trade, although it’s more likely the team ultimately just buys him out (the Lakers and Bulls are rumored potential landing spots).

Celtics small icon 13. Celtics (27-25, LW 14). A lot of trade buzz around the Celtics heading into the deadline, with the team looking for players to help build around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (not trade one of that duo). Point guard Dennis Schroder will likely be dealt (Chicago? That’s a hot rumor) and Josh Richardson rumors are ever-present. Some teams have called about Marcus Smart as well, but it would take an offer that would blow Brad Stevens away to get him out of Green. The Celtics have won 4-of-5 and have a soft schedule for a week, a chance to climb up the Eastern standings a little.

Hornets small icon 14. Hornets (28-23, LW 13). Will Charlotte have a representative in the All-Star Game? Yes… but it will be as an injury replacement. Probably. LaMelo Ball is on the cusp; he was my first-out when Dan Feldman and I named our All-Star reserves, it’s possible the coaches put him in, but if not someone has to replace Kevin Durant (who is out) and anyone else from the East who can’t play, and LaMelo Ball has the most fan votes of anyone not likely selected. Adam Silver, when naming replacements, tends to follow the fan vote. So, one way or another LaMelo likely plays. He’s also headlining the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night. You can make a case that Miles Bridges deserves to be an All-Star, but a lot of things will need to happen first for that to become a reality.

Raptors small icon 15. Raptors (26-23, LW 16). Toronto is playing its best basketball of the season of late, having won three in a row — two over Miami and once over Atlanta — and they have won 5-of-7. They have a top-10 defense during that stretch, which is fueling the wins. The Raptors will make at least one trade at the deadline, finding a new home for Goran Dragic, and likely bringing back a player who makes a few million less in the process to help them get under the luxury tax line.

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (24-26 LW 18). Atlanta is the streakiest team in the NBA. In November, they lost six straight, then turned around and won seven straight. In January, they lost five in a row before bouncing back with another seven-game winning streak (that streak died at the hands of the Raptors Monday). The Hawks are doing it on both ends with a top-5 offense and defense over their last eight games. That win streak quieted trade talk around the Hawks, John Collins may ultimately still want out of town but that looks more like an off-season thing now.

17. Timberwolves (26-25, LW 15). Some Patrick Beverley trade talk bouncing around the league as good Timberwolves team pushes to make the postseason (they sit as the No. 7 seed, top spot in the play-in, but it’s going to be tough to climb up the 2.5 games to sixth and avoid the play-in without some help). They could use a strong defender at the point guard if they move Beverley out. Karl-Anthony Towns is all but a lock to be named an All-Star reserve by the coaches, he has earned it with his play this season.

Clippers small icon18. Clippers (26-27, LW 20). The Clippers — without Kawhi Leonard all season and now without Paul George for an extended time — have formed an identity of a gritty, tough team to play against, and they are one game up on that team down the hall (who has yet to form an identity). Credit coach Tyronn Lue for that, he has done a masterful job this season (even if he’s not going to get Coach of the Year votes). No word yet on if Paul George will have surgery, but any moves the Clippers make at the trade deadline will be about next season, not this one.

Knicks small icon 19. Knicks (24-27, LW 19). New York traded for Cam Reddish, but he hasn’t been able to crack Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. Which has the Knicks front office looking to trade a perimeter player — Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker — so that Thibodeau is forced to play Reddish. Sitting 11th in the East and with the teams just above them playing well (Toronto, Atlanta, etc.), the Knicks need some wins, but it’s going to be tough with their schedule coming up. Wednesday night they host the Grizzlies, then they head out West for five games, including the Jazz and Warriors.

Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (24-27, LW 17). It’s hard to find a bright spot right now with Los Angeles. They went 2-4 on their Grammys road trip, and the come-from-ahead loss to the Hawks on Sunday was particularly a tough blow — it was a league-leading 11th time the Lakers have blown a double-digit lead and lost this season. LeBron James has knee soreness that has him out, and the buzz around the league is he may sit out until after the All-Star break to get it right. However, the Lakers have lost three straight without him and are 5-10 on the season when he sits. The Lakers appear destined to be a play-in team. Again.

Blazers small icon 21. Trail Blazers (21-30, LW 22). One of the hottest names on the trade rumor mill, expect Portland to make moves — yes, plural — before the deadline. There is a lot of interest from contenders in Robert Covington, but the names of Ben McLemore and Jusuf Nurkic are bouncing around as well. Then there is the CJ McCollum talk. It’s not clear if interim GM Joe Cronin has the power to blow up the Trail Blazers backcourt, and even if he does there’s little evidence any team (including the Pelicans) is offering near enough to get serious consideration for that move.

Spurs small icon 22. Spurs (19-33, LW 24). San Antonio is the unluckiest team in the league, they have the point differential of a 25-27 team, but they are 7-17 in clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes) with a -17.8 net rating in those minutes. Don’t expect any big trade deadline moves from the Spurs, while they have interest in John Collins in Atlanta they are not going to meet the Hawks’ current asking prices. That’s more of an offseason/draft day kind of discussion.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (23-27, LW 21). Washington is stumbling toward the trade deadline, and that only ramps up the speculation that they could shift course and trade Bradley Beal. That’s not happening unless Beal himself asks out, and he has not wanted to do that (even though there are reports the Wizards 13-24 play after a fast start has him disillusioned). The Wizards have been active in the trade market, showing interest in Domantas Sabonis (but his asking price may be too high) and testing the market to see what Montrezl Harrell‘s value is. Owner Ted Leonsis wants to make the postseason, so expect some kind of shake-up.

Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (19-33, LW 26). While the Pacers made headlines saying their trio of Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert could be available, but the reality is far less interesting. Turner’s injury (stress reaction in his foot) has dampened his market considerably, teams are unsure how much he can help this season. The asking price for Sabonis — a good young player and one or two first-round picks (depending on how good they are) — is proving more than the market will pay. That leaves LeVert as the player likely traded from the Pacers, but they still want a first-round pick and a player for him, and that may be too much.

Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (19-32, LW 23). Brandon Ingram returned to action Tuesday night and, predictably, the Pelicans got the win. New Orleans is 17-20 this season in games Ingram plays and 2-12 when he does not. Ingram has played well enough this season to be an All-Star — 22.5 points and 6 rebounds a game — but whether the West coaches will pick him considering New Orleans’ record remains to be seen. A lot of talk about the Pelicans wanting to trade for CJ McCollum, but would an offer of a lot of first-round draft picks (from Lakers and Bucks trades) plus a combination of Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. get it done for a Blazers team wanting to win now around Damian Lillard?

Magic small icon 26. Magic 11-41, LW 29). Orlando has won 3-of-5 and its not a coincidence that has happened as they got healthy and got their best starting five back — Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. Suggs has played better since returning from injury and is showing real promise. He, Anthony, and Wagner will all be in the Rising Stars game in Cleveland during All-Star Weekend, and they deserve it.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (18-34, LW 25). Here are two things that are true: 1) The Kings have lost 7 in a row and 12-of-14, and now sit 13th in the West 3.5 games out of even the last play-in spot in the conference; 2) The Kings are looking to be buyers at the trade deadline because they want to make a push up the standings and get at least into the play-in. The Kings have been linked to Jerami Grant, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and others in trade talks. Harrison Barnes is among the players available (and a number of teams are interested in him). Whether or not thinking short-term is the smart move for the Kings, it’s the direction owner Vivek Ranadive wants to go.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (12-38, LW 28). Jerami Grant trade rumors are all over the league. The Wizards and Kings are possible landing spots, they have young players and picks to send back, and they can provide Grant with the prominent offensive role he seeks. Grant will not get traded to a contender to be a third option, he would push back against that role and has some leverage with his contract extension. Detroit may have lost 5-of-6, but give them credit for a quality win over the Cavaliers on Sunday.

Thunder small icon 29. Thunder (15-34, LW 30). The Thunder come up in a lot of trade rumors because they’re the only team that has (or can easily create) cap space, helping facilitate a big trade for someone like a Ben Simmons (if such a trade actually happens), but its not likely any of their players get moved. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out until at least the All-Star break with a sprained ankle, meaning it is the Josh Giddey show in OKC for a few weeks.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (14-36, LW 27). While speculation about how to pull off a John Wall trade is a fun thought exercise, the reality is it’s far more likely to be Eric Gordon, and maybe Christian Wood, who are on the move in the next 8 days, not Wall. Right now Houston is pushing to get a first-rounder back for Gordon, but that price could come down as the deadline nears. The Rockets have dropped four in a row.

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.

Jose Alvarado had Pelicans’ fans singing his name after 38-point game

0 Comments

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jose Alvarado brought fans to their feet repeatedly, and they gleefully sang his name.

Alvarado highlighted a career-high 38-point performance with a career-best eight 3-pointers, and the Pelicans won their fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets 121-106 on Sunday.

“I’m happy he had a big night,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s fun. This is why you watch the game. This is why guys go out and compete and work hard, to have moments like this.”

Alvarado, a 6-foot guard whose production has far exceeded expectations since he went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, came off the bench with the Pelicans trailing by 14 in the first quarter and immediately scored eight points during an 11-1 run.

“Jose, in that moment, he felt his number was called and he he had to make a play – do something. He did that and more,” said Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, who added 25 points in his typically forceful way around the basket. “The shots he made were huge.”

It wasn’t long before fans began serenading Alvarado with a soccer-crowd-style chant replacing “Ole,” with “Jose.”

“Jose was the guy tonight,” Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said. “He killed us.”

Denver coach Mike Malone said his team “never adjusted” when it became apparent Alvarado was going to be a premier scorer in the game.

“Give him credit,” Malone said, “but we did a poor job, obviously, of guarding him.”

Alvarado hit 12 of 19 shots and missed just three of his 11 3-point attempts. He also scored on explosive driving floaters over significantly taller defenders in the lane.

“I’m not a big scorer,” said Alvarado, whose game-high in college was 29 points.

He couldn’t recall scoring as many as 38 at any level, adding with a smile, “This is the one I’m going to remember.”

When he checked out of the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Teammates hugged Alvarado as he came to the bench, and some playfully poured water over his head after the game ended.

“This team is special,” Alvarado said. “It’s more than just teammates to us. We’re all brothers and we all want to see each other win. When someone’s hot, they’re going to give you the ball and that’s what they did.”

Because Alvarado lacks the “physical attributes a prototypical NBA player would have,” Williamson said, the reserve guard represents the type of “underdog story” people love.

“He’s making an impact. He’s the X-factor for us,” Williamson said. “So, when people see that, and he’s telling them to stand up and get hyped, it’s infectious energy. You can’t help but want to be a part of that.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for New Orleans despite being limited to less than 14 minutes by foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez, who played nearly 20 minutes in place of Valanciunas, responded with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Trey Murphy scored 12 points, including a pair of driving dunks and a 3-pointer from 27 feet away. That helped the Pelicans, who were without Brandon Ingram for a fourth straight game, win for the ninth time in 11 games.

Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who’ve lost two straight on the heels of four straight victories. Aaron Gordon scored 19 points and Jamal Murray 18 for Denver.

But Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led to 18 Pelicans points.

“When you play better teams on the road, you can’t beat yourself,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, tonight was another example of us doing that.”

Jokic had 13 points in the first nine minutes. His end-to-end layup as he was fouled and two free throws shortly after gave Denver an early 30-16 lead.

But about the time Jokic checked out, Alvarado checked in and hit two 3s and a driving layup to help the Pelicans close it to 31-27 by the end of the opening quarter.

Jokic had 21 points and Alvarado 19 by halftime, when Denver led 60-59.