Monte Morris

Michael Porter Jr. has breakout game, drops 37, Nuggets top Thunder in OT

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Michael Porter Jr. scored a career-high 37 points and Nikola Jokic had a triple-double to help the Denver Nuggets top the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-113 in overtime on Monday.

Porter, who averages just 7.5 points, had the big performance in only his third start of the season.

“He has got tremendous size, length, he can score the ball, he’s got soft touch and he does so (scores) in a very efficient manner,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “He can also rebound at a very high level. Tonight, we saw all those things put together.”

Porter made 12 of 16 shots and grabbed 12 rebounds. His previous career high was 25 points.

“All I’ve got to focus on is bringing the energy and the effort, lock in on defense and the rest will take care of itself,” Porter said.

Jokic had 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help Denver strengthen its hold on third place in the Western Conference standings.

It was a key win for the Nuggets, who were missing three starters. Jamal Murray sat out with left hamstring tightness, forward Will Barton sat out with left knee soreness and guard Gary Harris sat out with a strained right hip.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 24 points, Chris Paul had 23 and Danilo Gallinari added 20 for the Thunder, who also were short-handed. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City’s No. 3 scorer for the season, left the bubble to join his wife for the birth of their second child.

The game was close throughout. Denver’s Monte Morris was fouled with 6 seconds remaining, and he made both free throws to give the Nuggets a 109-108 lead. Paul missed the first and made the second of two free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining to tie the game at 109. Denver’s Troy Daniels missed a floater from near the free throw line at the buzzer, and the game went to overtime.

In the extra period, Denver outscored Oklahoma City 12-4 and held the Thunder to one field goal.

“In the overtime, I thought we played terrific on both ends of the floor,” Malone said.

Report: Denver’s Gary Harris, Torrey Craig to arrive at restart Sunday

gary Harris Torrey Craig
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Denver’s Nikola Jokic was late arriving to the NBA restart in Orlando because he was recovering from the coronavirus.

Now two other Nuggets who were not yet on the Walt Disney World campus for undisclosed reasons — Gary Harris and Torrey Craig — are set to arrive, reports Kendra Andrews of The Athletic.

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone would not confirm or deny the report. The two would be available Wednesday at the earliest, the day of Denver’s first scrimmage/preseason game, going against Washington. It’s highly unlikely Harris or Craig would appear in that game, even if available.

Denver is still shorthanded in the bubble, Harris and Craig would bring the total to 12 players (which includes all five starters). It is known that Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, and Keita Bates-Diop are not currently with the team in Orlando.

Harris and Craig are critical to the Nuggets’ defense if the team wants to prove itself more than just a regular-season threat. Harris is the starting two guard who averaged 10.4 points a game, while Craig came off the bench on the wing and the team defense was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court.

Reports: Nikola Jokic completes quarantine; Monte Morris didn’t travel with Nuggets

Nuggets guard Monte Morris and center Nikola Jokic
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Nuggets star Nikola Jokic tested positive for coronavirus in Serbia. Gary Harris, Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr. didn’t travel with Denver to Orlando, either.

And neither did backup point guard Monte Morris.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

This doesn’t explicitly say Morris contracted coronavirus. But like a report on Rockets star James Hardenfeeling fine,” an assessment of symptoms invites speculation.

At least Jokic, as expected, arrived at Disney World.

Nuggets:

Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

Jokic has finished his quarantine but still needs to undergo physical testing by team staffers before he can practice, according to a team source. Jokic is slated to watch Tuesday night’s practice.

It was already difficult to predict how Jokic would fare physically in the resumption. His illness and delayed travel only add variables.

There isn’t much clarity on the rest of the roster, either. Harris is Denver’s starting shooting guard. Morris, Craig and Porter are key reserves.

When seeding games begin later this month, will the Nuggets resemble the team we saw most of the season? As the team’s top player, Jokic returning is a huge step. But depth was a strength of Denver’s, and that’s in jeopardy.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Jazz

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, and Pacific Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Denver had maybe the easiest protections decisions in the NBA. Two rotation players (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) are ineligible, so the Nuggets simply protect their other rotation players.

Keita Bates-Diop is the exact type of player an expansion team should snag. He’s shown some upside in limited minutes. Vlatko Cancar has the benefit of an additional year on his contract, and will be only 23 years old at the start of next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: The Wolves are keeping guys who might be a part of the future. Most were no-brainers. The decision point was Omari Spellman v.s Juancho Hernangomez. Keeping Hernangomez doesn’t mean Minnesota will definitely re-sign him, but he has more upside than Spellman.

After Spellman, the rest are take it or leave it. Also, the Timberwolves aren’t paying either expansion team to take James Johnson off their hands.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: If this was done before the season, there could have been an argument for the Thunder to expose both Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Both have played far too well to chance that now. Steven Adams is overpaid, but not by enough to leave him unprotected. The rest of the players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, are young players with upside.

Abdel Nader has been a part of the rotation at times for OKC, but he’s not getting protected over a younger player. Deonte Burton and Mike Muscala were easy decisions due to their minimal roles for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Portland is keeping its key veterans and younger players. The decision point was Wenyen Gabriel vs. the three unprotected veterans. In the end, the Trail Blazers chose to protect Gabriel, who they’ll likely renounce in free agency.

As for the three veterans, they all had strong cases against protecting them. Trevor Ariza is overpaid at this point his career. Rodney Hood is coming off a torn Achilles’. And Mario Hezonja just isn’t worth protecting, even despite his minimum salary.

Utah Jazz

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Utah’s first seven players were easy decisions. They are all rotation players. The decision point was keeping a non-guaranteed player (ultimately chose 2019 second-round pick Miye Oni) over either Mike Conley or Ed Davis.

The Jazz are leaving Conley and Davis unprotected because neither acquisition has worked out as hoped for. If Utah can clear Conley’s salary, that would be helpful for a team that is starting to get very expensive. Davis makes less than Conley, but the fit just doesn’t work. And of the minimum players, none have found a rotation role.

Fully healthy Clippers rout Nuggets 132-103

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LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers has spent most of the regular season coming up with patchwork lineups and hoping for a healthy future for the Los Angeles Clippers. Although they’ve got an outstanding record, their roster had only been fully healthy for a half-dozen games.

That healthy future is finally here, and it looks beautiful. When the deep, talented Clippers were all together Friday night, even a fellow Western Conference power didn’t stand much of a chance.

Paul George hit six 3-pointers while scoring 24 points, Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and the Clippers routed Denver 132-103 for their third straight win.

Montrezl Harrell had 18 points and 10 rebounds while Lou Williams scored 17 points and hit five 3-pointers in a comprehensively dominant win for the Clippers, who never trailed. LA evened the teams’ season series while sending the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets to their worst loss of the season.

After four months of injury problems and a trade-deadline reshuffling, the Clippers’ roster was completely intact for only the seventh time all season. They’re unbeaten in those seven games, and the veteran coach had trouble thinking of any significant flaws in their performance in one of their biggest tests of the year.

“The one thing this team has not lacked is confidence,” Rivers said. “Even when we weren’t playing well. But it definitely helps to start doing it. Then everyone sees what you’re capable of, and it takes you to another level.”

In a meeting of two elite teams hoping to win their franchises’ first championship in this suddenly wide-open league, the Clippers pulled even with Denver in the conference standings at 40-19. Both teams trail only the Lakers (45-12) for the West’s best record.

But in one of its biggest regular-season games of the year, Los Angeles produced stellar defense and merciless offense. Nine Clippers scored at least seven points, and they hit 46.2% of their 3-point attempts (18 for 39).

“It’s a big win,” Williams said. “I think it was important for us to get that game. We’ve got a lot of challenges coming up, and it was important to start with this one.”

Nikola Jokic had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Jerami Grant added 20 points as the Nuggets took a loss that was even worse than their 26-point defeat at Houston on New Year’s Eve. Denver lost for only the fourth time in 12 games overall.

“Oh, it’s a long list,” Denver coach Michael Malone said when asked what disappointed him. “I would just say the overall fight, from beginning to end. I thought we were soft tonight, from beginning to end. We couldn’t run offense because they took us out of our stuff. They’re a good team, but I’m just very disappointed with our competitive spirit and our effort.”

The Nuggets beat the Clippers 114-104 in the teams’ first meeting of the season last month, but George missed it with his hamstring problem. With both teams at full strength for the rematch, the Clippers were too much offensively for Denver’s normally stingy defense.

Los Angeles pulled away steadily in the second half, eventually taking a 25-point lead on Williams’ fifth 3-pointer with 7:12 to play and pouring it on when reserves wrapped it up.

“We held each other accountable in the locker room, just saying we got punked,” Denver guard Monte Morris said. “If we want to take that next step, games like this, we’ve got to be ready to play. The coaches only can do so much. … Will (Barton) had a good speech for us for about five minutes. It was just about how teams think we’re soft, and think if they get into us, they can disorient anything we do. And they did that tonight.”

Although the Clippers roared out with a 37-point first quarter, the Nuggets briefly kept it close with help from Grant. The backup guard built on his career-high 29 points against Detroit on Tuesday with 14 in the first half at Staples Center.