Month: February 2024

Pacific Notes: Curry, Looney, Lyles, Durant

Stephen Curry delivered a huge knockout blow by scoring 50 points in Game 7 against the Kings on Sunday. The Warriors were down 0-2 in the series and failed to close it out at home in Game 6 but they still advanced to face the Lakers in the second round, Kendra Andrews of ESPN relays.

“We’re defying the odds by still playing at this high of a level,” the Warriors’ superstar guard said. “I know everybody wants to see you fail. That’s kind of the nature of where we’re at right now. We love when we still prove a lot of people wrong. It’s part of our vibe now.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Kevon Looney is once again coming up huge in the postseason after re-signing with the Warriors laat summer on a new three-year contract. Golden State’s big man supplied 11 points and 21 rebounds in the Game 7 triumph, the third time in the series he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. Coach Steve Kerr heaped praise on Looney afterward, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets. “I think Loon is one of the best centers in the league, I really do,” Kerr said. “People don’t recognize it because he’s not dunking, shooting threes, and all that stuff, but this guy is a flat out winner, he’s a machine, and we wouldn’t be here without him.”
  • Kings forward Trey Lyles averaged 6.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18 minutes per game during the series. Lyles is headed to unrestricted free agency but he’d like to stay put, James Ham of The Kings Beat tweets. “This is the most at home I’ve felt of any team I’ve been on,” said Lyles, who has also played for Utah, San Antonio, Denver and Detroit.
  • Kevin Durant was disappointed in himself for making seven turnovers in the opener of the second-round series against Denver on Saturday. However, Durant isn’t fretting about the Suns falling behind in the series, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic (video link). “It’s just like any other game, to be honest. It’s not that deep,” he said. “On the road, we want to try to get one of the first two games here. Just look at the film and see what we can do better.”

Draft Notes: Sanogo, Jackson, Tshiebwe, Bates, Droppers

Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson Jr. were two key contributors to UConn’s national championship season. Both players have been invited to the NBA Combine in Chicago in May. Adam Zagoria tweets.

Jackson, a combo guard, is a potential first-rounder. He’s currently ranked No. 30 on ESPN’s Best Available list. Despite a stellar college career, Sanogo may have to open some eyes during the pre-draft process in order to get drafted. He’s currently ranked No.  87.

We have more draft-related items:

  • Kentucky’s star big man Oscar Tshiebwe hasn’t ruled out returning to college but he’s got a number of workouts lined up, Zagoria adds in another tweet. Tshiebwe has already scheduled workouts with the Celtics, Bucks, Rockets and Kings. He averaged 16.5 PPG and 13.7 RPG this past season and is currently ranked No. 66 on ESPN’s list.
  • Will guard Emoni Bates get drafted? The Athletic’s Shams Charania, John Hollinger and Brendan Quinn explore that question. Bates averaged 19.2 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 30 games with Eastern Michigan after a tumultuous freshman campaign with Memphis. Bates catches scouts’ attention with his high-level shot-making but doesn’t offer much else, according to The Athletic trio. He’s ranked No. 56 by ESPN and No. 78 by The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie.
  • What do Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins, Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis have in common? They are some of the players who have seen their draft stock decline heading into the combine, according to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto.

Northwest Notes: Reid, McDaniels, Finch, Jazz Contracts

Re-signing big man Naz Reid is a major offseason priority for the Timberwolves, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. Heading into unrestricted free agency, Reid averaged a career-high 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season.

“I think we’re going to be an organization that’s going to reward guys that do right by the organization,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “He came here, he got himself in better shape, he’s gotten better each and every year, and we’re fingers crossed that he’s going to be here for a long, long time. … We’ve been working pretty hard to try to figure out something long-term for Naz.”

The Timberwolves hold Bird rights on Reid, who suffered a left wrist fracture late in the season.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels fractured his right hand in two places during the team’s regular-season finale, costing the Wolves a valuable defensive-minded rotation player entering the playoffs. McDaniels punched a wall in frustration that day and now he’s kicking himself for hurting the franchise, as Hine relays. “I made a dumb mistake,” he said. “I wish I could take it back. But, afterwards, there was nothing I could do. So I was just mad. Mad for my teammates. I know they were probably upset, too. … I just need to learn how to control my emotions better throughout the game.”
  • Timberwolves coach Chris Finch believes the team wilted under increased expectations following last summer’s Rudy Gobert blockbuster acquisition, according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawcyznski. “I think we found life a little different just with the weight of expectations after the Rudy trade,” Finch said.
  • Contract options will play a major role in the Jazz‘s offseason, Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune notes. Only $3MM of Kelly Olynyk‘s $12.2MM contract for next season is guaranteed. Utah will have to decide what to do with the veteran big man by June 28. Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Rudy Gay and Damian Jones each hold player options for 2023/24, totaling approximately $35MM.

Grizzlies Notes: Adams, Brooks, Bane, Offseason

Grizzlies center Steven Adams didn’t play after January 22 due to a knee injury, but the team is hopeful he’ll be ready to go in October, Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal tweets.

“The target for Steven Adams is to return at the beginning of next season,” Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman said. Adams signed a two-year, $25.2MM extension last offseason that kicks in next season.

We have more on the Grizzlies:

  • Dillon Brooks didn’t have any trouble talking to LeBron James during the first-round series but he got fined by the league for not talking. He was docked $25K for violating league rules governing media interview access, the league’s communications department tweets. The fine stemmed from Brooks’ failure to participate in team postgame media availability during the first round.
  • Brooks did meet with the local media on Sunday and expressed no regrets for trash talking, including called James “old,” Cole reports. “No, that’s who I am,” Brooks said. “I don’t regret it. I’m a competitor. I compete.” Kleiman was noncommittal on Sunday when asked about Brooks’ future with the franchise. The veteran forward is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
  • Regarding that issue, Mark Giannotto and Cole believe it’s best if the Grizzlies let Brooks walk. Both Commercial Appeal reporters feel the club should re-sign Brooks only as a last resort after exploring many other options to upgrade the wing spot.
  • What should the Grizzlies do this offseason after their first-round flameout? Yossi Gozlan of Hoops Hype and Bobby Marks of ESPN both explore that topic, including how much Desmond Bane could receive in an extension.

Suns Notes: Ayton, Payne, Booker, Three-Point Shooting

Suns center Deandre Ayton is confident that Phoenix will rebound after its 125-107 blowout loss to the higher-seeded Nuggets in Game 1 of their second-round matchup, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

“We will be a completely different team Game 2,” Ayton said. “I can tell you that. The physicality, we’re going to turn it up a notch. They were playing Nuggets basketball but they were playing a little too [comfortably].”

Ayton had a modest night. In just over 30 minutes, he scored 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and chipped in seven rebounds. However, the 6’11” big man was a team-worst minus-21 when he was on the floor.

There’s more out of Phoenix:

  • The Suns currently have the lowest-scoring bench in the league, Rankin writes in a separate piece. Reserve point guard Cameron Payne is working his way back into game shape after a lower back injury kept him unavailable for all but four minutes in Phoenix’s five-game first-round series win against the Clippers. Rankin notes that Payne is hoping to help improve his team’s backup luck against Denver. “I’m just ready to get back out there and do whatever I can help our team get to the next round.” In just 48 games during an injury-plagued 2022/23 regular season, Payne averaged 10.3 PPG. Payne played just five minutes in Game 1 of the Denver series, scoring five points on 2-of-3 shooting during garbage minutes.
  • All-Star Suns shooting guard Devin Booker proved he truly belongs among the league’s elite thanks to a stellar performance in the first round, opines Rankin in another Arizona Republic story. Booker has improved defensively and as a passer, but his biggest attribute remains his multifaceted scoring touch. To wit, he outscored the Clippers by himself during a decisive third quarter of Phoenix’s closeout Game 5 win, 25-24, while connecting on 10-of-11 from the floor. He scored 27 points against the Nuggets in Game 1, on 10-of-19 shooting.
  • Though the Suns actually connected on a better percentage of their field goals (51.2%) than the Nuggets did (47.5%) in Game 1, the disparity in made three-pointers proved to be a big part of why they ultimately lost by 18 points, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. In the postseason thus far, teams are attempting 35 triples a game, while the Suns shot just 23 threes in that Game 1 loss, and many of those tries happened with the game already well out of reach.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Playoff Break, Celtics

Injured Sixers center Joel Embiid faces a big test in the second round of the 2023 Eastern Conference playoffs. Rich Hoffman of The Athletic submits three key questions facing the star big man ahead of Philadelphia’s impending matchup against the Celtics.

Embiid is dealing with a lateral collateral ligament right knee sprain, and the health of that knee will be a huge focus of both teams in the series. Boston center Robert Williams III came off the bench in the team’s first-round series against the Hawks, but given how imperative Embiid is to the Sixers’ play, Hoffman wonders if Williams may get a starting nod to help stifle the 7’1″ MVP candidate. Hoffman notes that Jayson Tatum‘s help defense on Embiid was a big part of the Celtics’ game planning against him.

There’s more out of Philadelphia:

  • The Sixers enjoyed the lengthiest break between playoff series for any club in four years, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We will take it, I think, at the end of the day,” head coach Doc Rivers said of the extended layoff. “This is the longest [break between series] I’ve ever had, so [we are] just trying to keep our guys as sharp as possible, and all that is not easy.” Mizell adds that Philadelphia has been working on honing its spacing on offense and some defensive concepts.
  • Given Embiid’s LCL injury, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer wonders if the Sixers will be able to adjust successfully enough to defeat the Celtics. Guards Tyrese Maxey and James Harden would be expected to help carry more of the scoring burden, and reserve center Paul Reed could see more run as Embiid manages the knee.
  • Rivers said that Embiid should still be considered doubtful to suit up for the opening game of the Sixers’ series against the Celtics on Monday, but continues to make strides in his rehab, Pompey tweets. Embiid did participate at least a little in Sunday’s practice, Kyle Neubeck of reports.

Rockets Notes: Udoka, Green, Smith, Porter

At his introductory press conference as the Rockets‘ new head coach, Ime Udoka publicly addressed the events in Boston for the first time since his suspension was announced last fall, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Without revealing many specifics of the incident, Udoka admitted that he made a mistake and said he hopes the experience will ultimately make him a better coach.

“Really, that time off and really a full understanding of how many people you impact with a poor decision, that starts with ownership and accountability,” he said. “I preach that to players. I take responsibility for my part in it. I took leadership and sensitivity training and some counseling with my son to help him improve the situation I put him in. You can grow from adversity — and I think I’ve done that this year — if you … take the right steps.”

Owner Tilman Fertitta said the Rockets received approval from the commissioner’s office before hiring Udoka, who received a four-year, $28.5MM contract. After three years of rebuilding, the organization was eager to add a coach with a proven track record.

“The NBA told me that they felt very comfortable with Ime becoming the coach of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said. “That felt good to me after a lengthy conversation. We’re a forgiving society, and everybody makes mistakes.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Udoka should have an immediate influence on the Rockets’ young talent, states Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Weiss expects Udoka to help Jalen Green learn how to slow down his game and play under control, and he envisions Jabari Smith Jr. developing into an exceptional defender in the role that Robert Williams plays in Boston. Weiss points to Kevin Porter Jr. as someone who could either improve under Udoka’s guidance or wind up being shipped to another team.
  • With their coaching hire out of the way, the Rockets will turn toward maximizing the roughly $60MM in cap space they’ll have this summer, Feigen adds in another Chronicle article. According to Feigen, the organization is still committed to the core pieces of its rebuilding process — Green and Smith, along with Tari Eason and Alperen Sengun — but Udoka talked about the need for a “different” type of big man. The front office will also prioritize shooting and hopes to add some veterans to an inexperienced roster.
  • Fertitta revealed that the Rockets plan to build a new $70MM practice facility, Feigen states in a separate story. It’s expected to be completed for the 2024/25 season.

Julius Randle To Miss Game 1

11:31am: The Knicks confirmed that Randle won’t play in Sunday’s game (Twitter link).

10:27am: Knicks forward Julius Randle will likely be inactive for today’s series opener against Miami, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Randle was visibly exhausted after a pregame workout, according to Steve Popper of Newsday (Twitter link).

Randle was listed as questionable after reinjuring his left ankle during Wednesday’s close-out victory in Cleveland. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Randle is considered day-to-day, but he wasn’t able to participate in practice Saturday.

Randle missed the final five games of the regular season with the original ankle injury and seemed to be bothered during New York’s first-round series as he shot just 33.8% from the field. He was in the middle of his best game of the series when he got hurt again late in the second quarter of Game 5.

Obi Toppin is expected to take Randle’s spot in the starting lineup until he can return. Toppin started the second half on Wednesday and helped the Knicks wrap up their series.

The Heat announced that center Bam Adebayo, who had been listed as probable for Game 1 with a hamstring issue, will be able to play, tweets Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel.

Heat Notes: Vincent, Butler, Love, Herro

Gabe Vincent‘s performance in Wednesday’s close-out victory over the Bucks should help make him a popular free agent this summer, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. The Heat guard had 22 points and six assists and delivered two clutch plays that contributed to Miami’s improbable win. He sank a three-pointer with eight seconds left that cut Milwaukee’s lead to one point and threw the pass that Jimmy Butler converted to send the game to overtime.

Vincent also shut down All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, limiting him to 4-of-11 from the field while defending him. He held Bulls star Zach LaVine to 1-of-7 shooting in their play-in game, and Jackson notes that Vincent has been one of the league’s best defensive point guards throughout the season.

“Guys were feeding him a bunch of confidence at the shootaround (before Game 5), telling him we needed him to score, be aggressive, be assertive,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When Jimmy and Bam (Adebayo) are telling you that, you feel like you can conquer the world.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Tom Thibodeau, Butler’s first NBA coach, will try to find a way to limit him as the Knicks prepare to host Miami in Sunday’s series opener, notes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Thibodeau believed the rookie had a bright NBA future when he first arrived in Chicago, but he’s surprised by the level Butler has been able to reach. “I’ll be honest — I didn’t see this,” Thibodeau admitted. “I saw the things that stood out were his toughness, his competitiveness. He played a lot of power forward (in college). But when you look at him, you say OK, I felt like we were getting a rotation player. I didn’t know how good he would become.”
  • Kevin Love is enjoying his first playoff experience since he reached the NBA Finals with Cleveland in 2018, per Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. The 34-year-old big man was confident that he picked the right team after his buyout with the Cavaliers. “I wanted to come. I wanted to win. I wanted to be a part of winning. I wanted to be a part of this and help make these guys’ lives easier,” he said. “And I felt like in a lot of cases I was able to do that. But I was definitely, even in my 15th year, trying to find my way. Us being here, advancing to the second round, beating a one seed after being in the play-in, yeah, I think it checks a lot of boxes. Obviously we have a lot of work to do, but, again I felt like I could still play, still contribute, and potentially be a part of something special.”
  • Tyler Herro‘s absence may be more significant in the second-round series than it was against the Bucks, Winderman suggests in another Sun Sentinel story. Winderman notes that Herro averaged 23.0 PPG against the Knicks during the regular season, and his creativity was vital in breaking down New York’s defense.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Title Hopes, Porter, Bench

After missing the playoffs the last two years because of a torn ACL in his left knee, Jamal Murray is back and looking like the dominant force he was during the Orlando bubble, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Murray delivered 34 points and nine assists on Saturday night as the Nuggets topped Phoenix in their series opener. He drilled six three-pointers, including a pair on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter to help Denver pulled away.

“Those moments, when you dream of it as a kid, you try to reenact those in the backyard,” Murray said. “Just counting down (final seconds for a winning shot) or feeling the energy or hitting that big shot and you hear the crowd that loud, you live for those moments and you want to make the most of those moments. And I have been waiting for a while to be healthy to be back and playing at this level and during this time of the year.”

Murray’s ACL injury happened in April 2021 and resulted in the Nuggets being swept by the Suns that year. He sat out all of last season while recovering, and a depleted Denver team lost to the Warriors in the first round. In his last playoff appearance, Murray led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2020, and he hopes to take them even further this year.

“He is playing amazing,” Nikola Jokic said. “He is definitely showing what he is capable of. He is our best player, and we are following him right now.”

There’s more from Denver:

  • Last night’s performance should help erase any doubts over Denver’s ability to win a title, contends Tony Jones of The Athletic. He points out that the Nuggets were so dominant during the regular season that they were able to cruise through March and still finish with as the top seed in the West. Along with the boost from Murray’s return, the team now has a strong defensive presence on the perimeter with the offseason additions of Bruce BrownChristian Braun and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “You guys (the media) act like you’re surprised, like we haven’t been playing at this level for most of the season,” Murray said after Saturday’s victory. “It kind of gets tiring having to defend ourselves. So we’re just coming out, trying to play well, and trying to win games.”
  • The Nuggets have also benefited from the return of Michael Porter Jr., who missed nearly all of last season after undergoing lumbar spine surgery. Suns star Kevin Durant calls Porter the X-factor in the series, per Michael Singer of The Denver Post. “He got healthy now, got an opportunity to play with a team that’s playing for something, playing meaningful basketball every year, got a Hall of Famer he’s playing with (Jokic) as well to make the game a little easier for you, so sky’s the limit for him,” Durant said. “Still young in the game, still athletic after surgeries.”
  • Denver’s depth might be the difference in this series, Singer suggests in another Post article. While the Suns’ best players logged heavy minutes in the first round, Nuggets coach Michael Malone showed a willingness to use a nine- or 10-man rotation.