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Utah, Memphis reportedly talking Mike Conley trade

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Ricky Rubio has been a solid point guard for the Jazz, a guy who knows how to run an offense, is a gifted passer, and is a strong defender, but he has limitations. Rubio does not space the floor with his shot, which allows teams to help off him and clog the lane for Donovan Mitchell drives.

Mike Conley would be a healthy upgrade over Rubio and he is available via trade. The Grizzlies’ point guard is a borderline All-Star player (he missed out again this season because of the depth in the West) who also is a quality perimeter defender. Conley also makes $30.5 million this season with $67 million on the books for the two seasons after that.

That’s a lot of money for the Utah Jazz to commit to, but they are talking with the Grizzlies about a possible trade, reports Andy Larson of the Salt Lake Tribune.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Utah Jazz have made an offer to the Memphis Grizzlies involving Ricky Rubio and a 2019 first round pick for point guard Mike Conley, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.

The Grizzlies didn’t immediately accept the offer, though considered it in the context of other offers that they’ve been getting for Conley from other teams around the league. Memphis says they’ve received offers including better first round picks than the Jazz’s — currently slated to be the No. 19 pick — from teams around the league. One team reportedly also interested in Conley is the Detroit Pistons, sources said.

As a result, the Jazz may have to weigh whether or not to include additional picks or assets if they choose to acquire Conley before Thursday’s trade deadline.

To make the deal work financially the Jazz would need to throw in either Derrick Favors or Dante Exum, and there would need to be other pieces in that deal. Still, that the Jazz are even willing to have this discussion and take on this financial commitment is a big step for a smaller market team. It shows how much they want to win.

The Jazz believe they have two cornerstone pieces in Rudy Gobert and Mitchell, although Mitchell is still developing and exactly what his ceiling is remains to be seen. Even with them and some quality role players around the duo, the Jazz need more elite talent. Conley is that. He would be a great fit, just an expensive one.

There seems to be more interest in Conley than Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies, but salaries that large tend to get moved over the summer rather than at the deadline. Still, this is something that bears watching.

Nikola Jokic returned from his suspension by grabbing a triple-double (VIDEO)

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Saturday night in the NBA was the night of triple-doubles. Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum notched his first-ever triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks in a win at home with Damian Lillard sitting out while resting various ailments.

Then Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic added another triple-double as his team beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 126-110.

Jokic’s triple-double was a historic one at that. According to the NBA, Jokic’s triple-double helped him join Oscar Robertson as just one of two players in history with multiple 30-point, 15-rebound, and 10-assist games before the age of 24.

It was the first game back for Jokic after he was suspended for one game after leaving the bench during an altercation between Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors and Mason Plumlee on Jan. 23. Jokic missed the next game against the Phoenix Suns, but returned to Denver in style.

With the way Jokic plays, it seems as though he is primed to notch more triple-doubles in his career. Now, if someone would just give him a high five.

Take a look at the highlights from his historic performance in the video above.

Three Things to Know: James Harden’s Chamberlainesqe run hits new high in New York

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) James Harden’s Chamberlainesqe run hits a new high in Madison Square Garden. For all he has dome already in his career — MVP award, scoring champion, six-time All-Star, Sixth Man of the Year — James Harden had never had his Garden moment.

Check that one off the list.

James Harden went into Madison Square Garden and dropped 61 on the Knicks Wednesday night leading the Rockets to a 114-110 win.

This was impressive on so many levels we’re going to bullet points.

• It was Harden’s career high.
• The 61 tied Kobe Bryant for most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden since 1968. (Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at 62).
• Those 61 points are now the Rockets’ franchise record for a game.
• Harden in this game became the first NBA player to shoot at least 20 threes and 20 free throws in a game.
• This was Harden’s 21st consecutive 30-point game, tying the legendary Wilt Chamberlain for fourth-longest such streak in league history (Chamberlain has the top three, too).
• This was his fifth 50+ point game this season, the only other players to have five or more are Kobe and Michael Jordan
• Harden has averaged 52.2 points per game in his last five games, a total of 261 points.
• Harden scored those 261 points without a teammate assisting on one of those buckets. (Some people want to use this as a slight to Harden and call him selfish, but it’s more about his teammates and the lack of other shot creators on this team. They don’t have them, and Harden has to do this to win — he dropped 61 and they only beat the lowly Knicks by four. The Rockets are 3-2 during this insane run because of those teammates and the team’s defense. Also, he would have a lot more than 21 assists in those five games if his teammates could knock down shots.)
• Harden became the first player to score 60+ points and have 15+ rebounds in a game since then-Laker Shaquille O’Neal in March of 2000.

To cap it off, Harden had the seal and dunk that sealed the win.

2) Pacers’ Victor Oladipo was taken off the court on a stretcher with what looks to be a serious knee injury. All we can do is hope this is not as bad as it looked. But the Pacers fear that it is.

Indiana’s All-Star (and a lock to be again this season) Victor Oladipo went down with an ugly-to-watch knee injury. Here is the video, but know this is hard to watch and some of you may want to skip it.

The Pacers called the injury “serious” and said an MRI is scheduled for Thursday, but we know nothing else concrete, yet. It’s safe to say the Pacers are not optimistic about the outcome of that MRI.

Indiana is 32-15 on the season and hung on against Toronto to win without Oladipo 110-107. This season the Pacers are 7-4 with an impressive +6.6 per game when Oladipo has missed the game — if they can just hang around .500 the rest of the way Indiana will cruise into the playoffs.

However, this team is not near the same threat without Oladipo. If he is going to miss the rest of this season and, potentially, much of next season, the Pacers’ front office may want to change plans and become sellers at the trade deadline. They have to consider adding youth and athleticism to the roster and targeting when Oladipo returns from this injury. It puts a lot of things up in the air.

Which is too bad, because Indiana was one of the great stories of this season.

3) Jazz beat Nuggets in what had the intensity of a playoff game. In Salt Lake City, they see the upstart team in second place in the West, the team with the center who is a media darling and players winning over fans, and they think “that should be us, not Denver.” Instead, Utah got off to a slow start and only recently has put things together to climb back into the playoff picture.

Last night the teams faced off in what was one of the more intense and entertaining games of the season — it felt a lot like the playoffs for a Wednesday in January.

Rudy Gobert may be the best defensive center in the game and the Jazz one of the elite defenses in the league, but they don’t have an answer for Nikola Jokic either, he had 28 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists in the game.

Gobert himself scored 15 points and had three blocks, but this was the Donovan Mitchell show — 35 points with six three-pointers in what ended up a 114-108 Jazz win. Utah has figured it out this season, this is not a game they won a couple of months ago.

Of course, what everyone is talking about is the first quarter scuffle between Utah big man Derrick Favors and Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Both men got ejected for this.

But that’s not the interesting part. Denver’s Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. To be fair, Jokic never steps on to the court itself and never engages with any Jazz players (before an assistant pulled him back to the bench). We’ll see how the league responds, but guys have been suspended for less.

Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee ejected after scuffle during Jazz, Nuggets game (VIDEO)

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The most pressing question out of this is not even the fight itself.

In the first quarter of Utah’s eventual win over Denver, Jazz big man Derrick Favors got tangled up with Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Favors pulled Plumlee’s arm, at which point Plumlee came back and got in his face, then Favors shoves Plumlee and a little scuffle breaks out.

Both Favors and Plumlee were ejected for the incident. Utah’s Royce O’Neale and Denver’s Will Barton picked up technicals.

None of that is what people are talking about.

Watch the video again: Denver’s Nikola Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. Jokic never steps on to the court (he stays along the baseline) and never engages with the combatants. Still, guys have been suspended for less.

Jokic went on to score 28 points, grab 21 rebounds, and he dished out 6 assists. It wasn’t enough as Rudy Gobert had 15 points and three blocks, and Donovan Mitchell had 35 points in a 114-108 Jazz win, one of their best in the season in what was a highly entertaining game.

Donovan Mitchell adjusting to elevated expectations

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Donovan Mitchell quickly won over fans in and outside Utah with his electrifying play. Despite not being an All-Star, he stole the show at All-Star Weekend, charismatically building his platform and winning the dunk contest. He unleashed an insurgent Rookie of the Year campaign. He led the Jazz to playoff-series victory. He signed a lucrative endorsement deal and got a signature shoe.

Donovan Mitchell has made it.

And that makes him uncomfortable.

“I’ve never really come from a position where I’m not the underdog, if that makes sense,” said Mitchell, whose stature rose quickly for a player who initially intended to return to Louisville for his junior season and was still just a mid-first-round pick in 2017. “I haven’t really had that in my life.”

Mitchell is having another fine year, averaging 20.4 points per game. But he doesn’t look quite as sharp as last season, when he established himself as a co-franchise player with Rudy Gobert for the Jazz.

The future in Utah with those two can still be extremely bright. The ascent will be just be bumpier than hoped.

Some of Mitchell’s difficulties are unavoidable. He’s the go-to scorer on a defensive-first team – a tremendous burden.

Of the nine regularly playing guards with usage percentages above 30, only two have their team allow fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions with them on the floor – Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. Relatedly, Mitchell and Westbrook have the lowest true shooting percentages among those nine:

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(That’s Zach LaVine barely poking out behind Kemba Walker.)

The Jazz and Thunder have built systems around putting defensive-minded personnel on the floor, positioning players to get back on defense, gumming up spacing and expecting their top guards to produce anyway. It’s a big ask, one that depresses Mitchell’s and Westbrook’s individual efficiencies but works to the betterment of the team.

Westbrook was a seasoned star in his ninth season when Oklahoma City gave him that role following Kevin Durant‘s departure. Mitchell got it as a rookie and is continuing with it in his second season.

At times, Mitchell has tried to defer. His teammates urged him to keep shooting. This team was built to feature him, and a couple months of relative struggles don’t change the bigger picture.

Mitchell is the only Jazz starter who can reliably create for himself. Mitchell and Ricky Rubio are the only starters who can reliably create for others. Mitchell and Joe Ingles are the only starters who can reliably space the floor from distance. Utah starts a pair of traditional bigs in Gobert and Derrick Favors. So much falls to Mitchell offensively.

Opponents have adjusted to Mitchell more quickly than he has developed his game. They blitz him more often on pick-and-rolls. They shade toward him more quickly as he drives. They stunt off him more often rather than completely leave him to help.

Ever since Mitchell torched Dwane Casey’s Raptors for 25 points early last season, the coach – now with the Pistons – has emphasized Mitchell in scouting reports.

“There’s certain things we want to live with and certain things we don’t want to give up,” Casey said. “And him sashaying from end of the court to the other, one slot drive, one dribble to the rim – those are the things we’ve got to take away.”

Mitchell isn’t getting to the rim as often as last season, settling for more floaters. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage has also fallen from 41% to 30% – concerning because that should be more defense-agnostic.

“The season might not go the way I want it to this year, for me personally,” Mitchell said.

He’s figuring it out as he goes, but not quickly enough to maintain the sky-high expectations set for him entering the year. At least the Jazz (20-21) are winning a reasonable amount amid a tough early schedule that will soften. Team success, Mitchell says, is his priority.

This is a learning season for both Mitchell and Utah about how to best deploy him.

The Jazz will have an opportunity to reconfigure this summer. They could waive Derrick Favors ($16.9 million unguaranteed salary), renounce free agents Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh and open a projected $31 million in cap space.

Maybe Mitchell just needs more complementary offensive pieces, and that’d be the cash to get them. Or maybe continuing to emphasize defense while riding Mitchell offensively is the right formula.

This season has provided plenty of reason to reel in the Mitchell hype. It has not produced many doubters in him.

“He may have some growing pains,” Casey said. “But it’s there, and you never forget how to swim. He’s going to be a great player in our league for a long time.”