A rookie guard who was virtually unknown a few months ago may have changed the shape of the Thunder’s first-round series, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Luguentz Dort made life difficult for Rockets star James Harden whenever they were matched up in Saturday’s Game 3, setting the stage for Oklahoma City to rally for a badly needed overtime victory.
Harden scored 38 points, but shot just 7-for-21 while Dort was in the game. The rookie has shown an ability to stay in front of the league’s top scorer and force him into contested 3-pointers.
“We know Lu and what he does,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s what we expect every night.”
Dort’s defensive prowess leaves coach Billy Donovan with a difficult choice moving forward, notes Royce Young of ESPN. The Thunder need Dort to counteract Harden, but that means sitting out one member of the unit that normally closes games. An injury to Steven Adams dictated the decision Saturday, but Donovan may have to adjust his regular lineup for the rest of the series.
There’s more from the Northwest Division:
- It’s too soon to think about firing Michael Malone, but Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post believes trust between the Nuggets coach and his players is broken after two straight lopsided losses to the Jazz. Malone questioned his team’s resolve after Game 3, saying, “I think we give in too easy” and “Our group has to be a lot more mentally tough.” Denver doesn’t have a hard-nosed leader in the locker room, Kiszla adds, and its closest thing to a “glue guy” is Will Barton, who left Orlando to rehab his injured knee.
- The strain of returning to a high-pressure environment 17 months after suffering a compound fracture in his leg is beginning to show on Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, observes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Players are usually brought along slowly after such a serious injury, but Nurkic is being asked to log heavy minutes in a playoff setting. Slater notes that an injury to Zach Collins and a lack of production from Hassan Whiteside leaves Portland with no other options.
- Collins talks with Jason Quick of The Athletic about the frustration of having a second serious injury within 12 months. Collins, who is coming off surgery on his left shoulder, now has a hairline fracture in his left ankle that doctors discovered before Game 2. “You don’t want to be a downer in front of your team and get everybody’s mood down,” he said. “They don’t need that. But definitely, when I got back (to the hotel) and talked with my agent and my parents, it all kind of hits you. It hits you that you are going to have to go through a whole another process again.”