NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets move into No.1 spot, Boston second


Nikola Jokic has pushed the Denver Nuggets both to the top of the West and also to the top of these NBA Power Rankings. Boston, Memphis and Brooklyn round out the top four in a close race.

Nuggets small icon 1. Nuggets (27-13, Last week No. 2). Nikola Jokic is a lock to be an All-Star Game starter voted in by the fans, but if the Nuggets have the best record in the West, should they have two All-Stars in the game? That has led to a PR push of late to get Aaron Gordon in the game. Gordon will not get voted in as a starter by the fans/players/media, which means the coaches would have to pick him as a reserve. Good luck with that (despite a strong season from Gordon). Winners of 10-of-12, the Nuggets are in the midst of a homestand (9-of-10) and have gone 3-0 so far.

Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (29-12, LW 3). When the Celtics decide to flip the switch and are focused — as they were against Dallas last Thursday, or for much of the game against the Bulls Monday — they remind us what a title contending force this squad can be when it cares. Robert Williams III is back in the starting lineup, which also will help stabilize things. Thursday’s showdown with the Nets lost some luster because of the Kevin Durant injury, but that game still starts 6-of-7 on the road for Boston, we’ll see how focused they are through that stretch.

Grizzlies small icon 3. Grizzlies (27-13, LW 4). Ja Morant is set to return to the lineup Wednesday, not that they missed him too much the way Tyus Jones tore it up in his absence averaging 22.5 points and six assists a game in a starting role (in case you wondered why the franchise saw re-signing Jones last summer was a priority). Based on their point differential, the Grizzlies are headed for another 56-win season, which is pretty insane considering all the time their second- and third-best players (Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.). As noted this week, JJJ may not lead the mid-season Defensive Player of the Year voting because of all his missed time, but he’s coming on fast and could be the guy to beat come the end-of-season voting.

Nets small icon 4. Nets (27-13, LW 1). Kevin Durant will be out for weeks — the average for this injury is around three — and that’s going to put pressure on others to step up and knock down shots for one of the NBA’s pure jump-shooting teams (Brooklyn has taken 22.8% of its shots this season between 10-feet from the rim out to the arc, the third highest percentage in the league). Joe Harris, Seth Curry, expect to see more Patty Mills, all of them need to step up, but the real pressure will fall on Kyrie Irving. Is he up to the task? The good news for the Nets is that they enter a softer part of the schedule after Boston on Thursday with games against the Thunder, Spurs and Suns coming up.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (25-15, LW 5). The Sixers did well with a 2-1 record while Joel Embiid was out with a foot injury, but he returned against the Pistons and dropped 36 and 11. That blowout win meant Embiid got some rest and Doc Rivers got a long look at reserve big man Jaden Springer (who has bounced between the 76ers and the Delaware Blue Coats), and he saw a guy go 4-of-4 for 10 points. Maybe the Sixers have something there. Philadelphia has not traveled to the West all season but that changes starting Saturday in Utah as they head out on the road for five (including both Los Angeles teams).

Cavaliers small icon 6. Cavaliers (26-16, LW 7). Donovan Mitchell is rightfully drawing headlines — 46 points in his return to Utah, a 71-point game against the Bulls, and he looks to be a lock starting guard in the All-Star Game. But that’s not what has driven this team — they still have the second-ranked defense in the league (Memphis just passed them) and that’s why Jarrett Allen has to get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. The Cavs are 1-2 on their current five-game road trip, with stops in Portland and Minnesota still ahead.

Pelicans small icon 7. Pelicans (25-16, LW 6). Brandon Ingram said he hoped to return to the court during the team’s current road trip, but after Wednesday night he will have missed the first three games of the five-game trip and does not appear close to a return yet. Ingram has been out since Nov. 25 with a left big toe injury, and with Zion Williamson out right now (hamstring) the Pelicans could use the offense. The Pelicans have gone 2-2 in this stretch without their two best scorers, but things get tougher coming up with the Celtics, Cavaliers and Heat all within the next week.

Bucks small icon 8. Bucks (26-14, LW 8). The Bucks have slid of late — 7-8 over their last 15 — and Monday’s win over the Knicks was the first game of four in a row and 7-of-10 on the road. That matters because, as noted by John Schumann of, the Bucks on the road have a dreadful 104.1 offensive rating, 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse than any other team. Put another way, they score 10 more points per game at home compared to on the road. The Bucks defense (and that 9-0 start to the season) have saved them, but Milwaukee needs to get its offense in gear and pick up some road wins.

Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (23-19, LW 9). Luka Doncic is up to nine triple-doubles this season to lead the league, and in games he doesn’t hit that mark, he still has crazy numbers — in the loss to the Clippers Tuesday Luka had 43-11-7. While one should be careful reading too much into any one regular season game, the Celtics’ decimation of the Mavericks last week was a clear indication of how far this team is away from a focused title contender — it’s more than simply getting a good No.2 option next to Doncic. The Mavs stay on the road this week facing LeBron and the Lakers on Thursday, then they head to Portland for a baseball-series two games up in the Pacific Northwest.

Kings small icon 10. Kings (21-18, LW 10). Mike Brown’s impressive turnaround of the Kings this season started with him making their defense at least respectable. That has gone away of late, over the last 10 games the Kings have the second-worst defense in the league — and Brown called his team on it after the Lakers shot 61% against them. Defense or not the Kings are in a soft stretch of the schedule — their next two games are against the Rockets — where they can pad their record with some wins.

Knicks small icon 11. Knicks (22-19, LW 13). RJ Barrett has missed six games with a painful-sounding finger injury, which pushed Immanuel Quickley into the starting lineup — and it’s looked good. In those six games, Quickley has averaged 21.5 points and 4.3 assists a game while shooting 35.6% from 3, and the Knicks starting five (Jalen Brunson, Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson) is +5.3 per 100. Quickley works well off the ball, a good thing around Brunson and Randle. It leads to this question for Tom Thibodeau: When Barrett is healthy enough to return, should he come off the bench as a high-scoring, shoot-first sixth man?

Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (23-18, LW 17). Rick Carlisle has to be in the mix in any mid-season Coach of the Year conversation, he has shaken things up and leaned into four-guard lineups (because the Pacers have a plethora of guards: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Chris Duarte, TJ McConnell, Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard), which has led to quick ball movement and a difficult to defend offense. It’s worked well enough to have the Pacers as the No.6 seed in the East as this is written, but a big game in keeping ahold of that comes up Wednesday night against the Knicks.

Heat small icon 13. Heat (22-20, LW 15). Will the Heat make a move at the trade deadline? One might be tempted to say yes because this team needs depth/help at the four and because Pat Riley franchises have a long history of being aggressive with trades. However, this is a team up against the luxury tax and, while the Arison family has been willing to spend into the tax for a contender, is there a realistic trade out there that makes this team a contender? Not sure there is, nobody wants to take Duncan Robinson off Miami’s hands, and that could have them standing pat at the trade deadline.

Clippers small icon14. Clippers (22-21, LW 12). Terance Mann has brought a boost whenever Tyronn Lue has given him a larger role this season, and as the Clippers try to find their footing mid-season it could mean we see a lot more of Mann at the point. He started the last two games, and that appears likely to continue. Mann brings a defensive energy this team needs, and it showed in the win Tuesday over Dallas where he had just 12 points on 12 shots, but was a team-best +24 because of his defensive energy. That win over the Mavericks snapped a six-game losing streak for the Clippers, but things do not get easier to close out this homestand with the Nuggets on Friday and the 76ers next Tuesday.

Suns small icon 15. Suns (21-21, LW 14). Phoenix has gone 3-9 with Devin Booker out due to a hamstring injury, and it feels worse than that. The Suns are 6-15 since Dec. 1, there are rumblings of chemistry issues in the locker room, and the team has waited so long looking for the perfect Jae Crowder trade that the return on any deal gets worse by the day (teams are now trading for only half-a-season of Crowder). Which is why the win over the full-strength Warriors on a night Booker was joined on the bench by Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and multiple other rotation players was such a boost. Booker remains out and picking more road wins will not be easy against the Nuggets and Grizzlies this week.

Warriors small icon 16. Warriors (20-21, LW 11). Stephen Curry returned from his shoulder injury and showed some rust, shooting 8-of-22 overall and 5-of-15 from 3 in a loss to the Suns. The Warriors kept their head above water without him, going 6-5. Curry was playing at an MVP level before the injury, averaging 30 points per game, shooting 43.2% from 3, and adding 6.8 assists and 6.6 rebounds. The Warriors have been 14.4 points per 100 possessions better when Curry is on the floor this season and will likely get back to that, once Curry shakes off the rust.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (21-23, LW 19). Good on the Jazz fans for the warm welcome Donovan Mitchell got in his return to Utah — for all the focus at times on concerns he had with politics in the state, he loved that city and its people. Also good on Jordan Clarkson for taking over the game late and getting Utah the win. That game against the Cavs was the first of 11-of-13 at home for Utah in the run-up to the All-Star Game next month — a game Lauri Markkanen should be part of. But he’s going to have to get a nod from the coaches to become a reserve.

Bulls small icon 18. Bulls (19-22, LW 22). The Bulls have slowed the pace and won 5-of-8 behind the seventh-ranked offense in the NBA over that stretch. Zach LaVine in particular has thrived, including a 41-point night against the 76ers and 36 against the Jazz. Chicago has won 8-of-12 and climbed back into the play-in mix in the East (it’s a start). DeMar DeRozan will miss at least one game with a strained quad but there is optimism the team’s leading scorer will not miss much time.

19. Timberwolves (20-21, LW 24). Minnesota has gone 10-10 since Karl-Anthony Towns went out with a strained calf, including a current four-game winning streak that started against the Nuggets. Anthony Edwards has started to find his groove again as a slasher and scorer, something he showed off dropping 32 on the Trail Blazers. KAT isn’t expected back for a couple more weeks so it’s going to take more Rudy Gobert 20-20 games (like he had against the Clippers) to help the team keep its head above water, but once he does get healthy the Timberwolves still have a lot of work to do to develop some chemistry and a style of play.

Blazers small icon 20. Trail Blazers (19-21, LW 16). Portland has lost four in a row and 7-of-9 to fall out of even the play-in in the West (11 seed) and below .500 for the first time this season. The Trail Blazers’ defense is actually third-best in the NBA over those nine games, but the offense has fallen so far (27th) they just can’t get wins. The next couple of weeks will determine where this Blazers team is headed this season and if they should pivot and become sellers at the trade deadline, and their schedule is brutal: Cavaliers, two against the Mavericks, Nuggets, 76ers. It’s make-or-break time in Portland — and they need to find their offense fast.

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers 19-22, LW 21). How optimistic is the Lakers’ front office about this roster? Likely a lot more so after a five-game winning streak (and 6-of-7) that has them just two games back of the Clippers as the No. 6 seed. Are the Lakers optimistic enough to shed one of their first-round picks at the trade deadline to make sure LeBron James makes the playoffs? Or, do they see themselves as the No.12 seed (where they currently sit in a tight West) and think it would be throwing good money after bad? Anthony Davis remains out and the Lakers have a couple of tough tests this week with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks then Joel Embiid and the 76ers (both at home for L.A.).

Raptors small icon 22. Raptors (18-23, LW 20). Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet are the top three players in the league in minutes averaged per game — all of them playing more than 37 minutes a night. That will wear guys down over time, but on a team that has battled injuries and struggled to find its footing, Nick Nurse feels he has no choice. If you’re looking for a bright spot with the Raptors, they have been the least lucky team in the league — they have the net rating of a 21-20 team — and they have one of the easiest remaining schedules. Things can flip for them.

Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (19-21, LW 23). If you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful in Atlanta: Each of the last two seasons the Hawks have gone on a run in the second half of the season to make a playoff push (27-11 in 2021 and 26-14 last season). Do they have another run like that in them? Can they start it without Clint Capela, who will play his 12th straight game Wednesday due to a right calf strain (this is why Derick Favors got a 10-day contract). It doesn’t feel like this team has that same kind of run in it, not with the chemistry issues on this squad, but never say never. If that run is going to start this week it will come against tough competition: Bucks, Pacers, Raptors, Heat, Mavericks, Knicks.

Thunder small icon 24. Thunder (18-23, LW 25). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is deserving and should be an All-Star this season, but he’s going to have to get a hand from the coaches and get voted in a reserve (Curry and Doncic are locked in as the starters with the fan vote). While the world outside OKC may think of this as a tanking team, they are just 1.5 games out of the play-in and have a chance if they make a run. That will be tough to do this week, where Tuesday’s loss in Miami was the first game of 6-of-7 on the road, with some tough East teams coming in the 76ers and Nets.

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (17-24, LW 18). It’s tough for Washington to make a playoff push with Bradley Beal out dealing with a hamstring injury (he will be re-evaluated later this week). Without their star wing the Wizards have dropped three straight. Also with Beal in and out of the lineup and not really under consideration, will Washington have a player in the All-Star Game? Probably not, but Kyle Kuzma is their best bet if anyone is going to get a nod from the coaches.

Magic small icon 26. Magic 15-26, LW 26). After missing two years with a knee injury, Jonathan Isaac will play a couple of games for the Magic’s G-League affiliate (the Lakeland Magic) as part of his work to get back on an NBA floor. It’s a positive sign in a long-running saga, but he’s getting closer (the pre-injury version of Isaac would be a great fit on the floor next to Paolo Banchero as a finisher on offense and an elite defender on the other end, but he’s got a lot to prove to show he can get back to that point). Orlando has gone 2-1 to open a five-game road trip that now heads to Utah and Denver.

Spurs small icon 27. Spurs (13-28, LW 27). Devin Vassell had been impressive this season — 19.4 points per game, shooting 40.4% from 3 — which is why it sucks he will be out indefinitely after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. Give the Spurs credit for showing some grit, they were without starters Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl (and Vassell) against the Celtics and still nearly pulled off the upset. The Spurs have dropped 5-of-6 and have a couple of tough games ahead this week against the Grizzlies and Warriors.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (11-33, LW 28). All the talk around the Pistons is about a potential Bojan Bogdanovic trade — he could well be the best player moved at the deadline. The Pistons are demanding an unprotected first-round pick (as well as salary to match) and are letting teams know the price is not coming down, but those teams see that as a bluff and are waiting out the Pistons and expect the price to come down. It will go like this right up until the deadline. The Pistons have lost 5-of-7 but now have 10-of-12 at home and the chance to rack up a few wins.

Hornets small icon 29. Hornets (11-31, LW 29). One of the more surprising things in the NBA this season is the Raptors inability to shoot the rock — they are shooting 51.5% on twos (third worst in the league) this season and 33% on 3-pointers (also third worst in the NBA) — they have better shooters than this on the roster. Fred VanVleet is shooting 32.8% from 3 (on 8.7 attempts a game), while Scottie Barnes has dropped off to 28.8% this season. Shooting is a key reason the Raptors have disappointed this season, but they have won a couple straight and have winnable games next against the Hornets and Hawks (before going out on the road for most of the rest of the month.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (10-30, LW 30). They have dropped seven games in a row and 12-of-13, and now they head out on the road for 5-of-6. This season was never about wins for the Rockets (a good thing), but about progress so that next season — after they add another high draft pick plus maybe a free agent — they can focus on winning. Have we seen that kind of development out of the Rockets’ young stars? I don’t know that we have. What do know is KJ Martin is in for the Dunk Contest All-Star Weekend — that is a deserving invite.

Three things to know from night Heat shoot their way to win over Nuggets


DENVER — This felt a lot like a game from the Miami series against Boston.

The Heat were raining threes, throwing the offense of the Nuggets off balance, and Denver shot itself in the foot a few times to help out. It was the recipe that got the Miami Heat to the Finals, and they repeated it in Game 2 to even the NBA Finals 1-1 heading back to Miami.

It was what we’ve come to expect from Miami this postseason. Here are three takeaways from Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

1) It’s all about the 3-pointers with the Heat

Don’t overthink this.

Multiple aspects added up to this Heat victory, including how they defended Nikola Jokić and got the Nuggets out of rhythm, how the Heat slowed the fourth quarter way down and had it played in the mud (19 possessions), and how the Nuggets did the unexpected and aided in their own demise. But it all hinges on this:

The Miami Heat shot 17-of-35 from 3 (48.6%).

This was the seventh time this postseason the Heat shot better than 45% from 3 (nine times better than 40%). The Heat also hit 9-of-10 to start the fourth quarter and turn an eight-point deficit into a Miami lead.

Miami had three games in the Boston series where they shot 50%+ from 3, and when they score like that they are nearly impossible to beat. Since the playoffs started everyone keeps saying this level of 3-point shooting is unsustainable, yet here we are, with the Heat having stolen home court advantage in the Finals as a No. 8 seed.

The Heat did a lot of other things right that made this win possible, but the Nuggets’ offense still put up a 125.6 offensive rating for the game. Miami’s offense was just better because the 3-pointers were falling.

2) The Heat were relentless, the Nuggets were arrogant

In Game 1, when the Heat made their fourth quarter run, the Nuggets settled their offense, got the ball to Nikola Jokić who got a few buckets and made a few passes to set up others. Denver stopped the run and didn’t completely unravel under pressure like Boston and Milwaukee did against the Heat pressure.

In Game 2, the relentless Heat made their run to start the fourth quarter, hitting 9-of-10 shots — Duncan Robinson had all 10 of his points in that stretch — but this time the Nuggets played like a team that thought they could flip the switch. Denver did that all night.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a steamed Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

“It’s the f****** Finals, man. Our energy has to be better,” Jeff Green said more directly. “We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”

Miami has been exploiting these breakdowns and coming back on teams all postseason. They are relentless in their style of play and they are not rattled by the moment.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team’s drive in games like this. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.

“We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” said Gabe Vincent, who led the Heat with 23 points. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

We know the Heat will continue to play with this same force the entire series, the question now is how the Nuggets will respond to adversity.

3) Jokić was scoring, but Denver was not its comfort zone

.Nikola Jokić finished with 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.

The Nuggets are now 0-3 in these playoffs when Jokić scores 40+, but 13-1 in the other games (stat via ESPN Stats and Info).

When Denver is at its best, as they were in Game 1, Jokić is conducting a symphony and the points are raining down on their opponent from every direction. In Game 2, Miami did a good job taking away the cutters, staying home on shooters and limiting Jokić to four assists. They never let the symphony get started.

Just don’t tell Spoelstra the Heat made Jokić a scorer — he quickly and aggressively shot that idea down.

“This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer,'” Spoelstra said. “That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

Maybe he wasn’t just a scorer, but the Heat made Jokić and the Nuggets starters uncomfortable all game long. The Heat had the lead through much of the first three quarters because their bench went on a run late in the first and into the second — a run that stretched out to 40-14 at its peak — that gave them a cushion.

The Nuggets won non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by +14. They also were dominating when they could push the pace after a Heat miss or steal — all game long Denver struggled with the Heat could set their defense and take away shooters, they thrived when Miami was scrambled.

To start the fourth the Heat hit their shots (9-of-10) thanks to some defensive lapses from the Nuggets, and that let Miami set its defense.

Kevin Love deserves mention here. He was back in the starting lineup for Game 2 and responded with an impressive defensive performance from a guy who, to put it politely, is not exactly known for that. He protected the rim as a help defender and helped on Jokić in timely spots.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets


DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% three times against the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason (nine games of 40%+ from 3). This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.