Northwest Notes: Thunder, Holmgren, Nnaji, Scoot, Grant

The significance of the Thunder‘s victory in Denver on Saturday night can’t be ignored, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic, who points out that it’s extremely rare for any team to steal a win at Ball Arena. The Nuggets lost just seven times in Denver during the 2022/23 regular season and had won 10 of 11 home games so far this season before Saturday’s defeat.

“It showed that we can play with anybody when we are playing well,” Thunder forward Jalen Williams said of the thrilling 118-117 win. “Obviously, we have a ton of respect for Denver. In regards to that, they did a lot to win this game as well. But we feel that we can compete with anybody, and I think this solidifies those thoughts that we have.

“Honestly, I don’t think that we’ve ever not thought that way. But this just gives us more and more confidence as we head into the rest of the season. We know that we have a lot of work ahead of us and a long way to go. But we know that we can play with anyone when we are on our game.”

With the victory, the Thunder moved ahead of the Nuggets in the standings and once again hold the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. As Jones writes, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also continued to strengthen his Most Valuable Player case on Saturday, outplaying two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and hitting the game-winning shot in the final second of the fourth quarter.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Jokic had high praise for Thunder big man Chet Holmgren, who had an incredible nine blocked shots on Saturday. As Bennett Durando of The Denver Post relays, the Nuggets’ star center thinks Holmgren is capable of being much more than just a Rookie of the Year winner. “I think that’s not supposed to be his goal,” Jokic said. “I think he can be much better than that.”
  • Zeke Nnaji has been a DNP-CD in six of the Nuggets‘ past eight games, as head coach Michael Malone has leaned on DeAndre Jordan as the team’s primary backup center. However, Malone is unwilling to classify Nnaji as “out of the rotation,” referring to him as “an effective player for us,” tweets Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Nnaji signed a four-year, $32MM rookie scale extension prior to the season; it will begin in ’24/25.
  • Trail Blazers rookie Scoot Henderson has been showing his explosiveness more often as of late, which the team views as another sign that he’s getting more comfortable after a slow start to his NBA career, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. “I think Scoot is getting better every day, to be honest with you,” Billups said of the No. 3 overall pick, who has averaged 18.3 points on .468/.500/1.000 shooting in his past three games. “You can actually see the progress in the games. In the early part of the season he really struggled, and I thought most of his struggles came from him just wanting so badly to play well. So, he could never slow down.”
  • Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant returned to action on Saturday after spending four games in the concussion protocol and didn’t miss a beat, scoring 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting in 38 minutes of action. Grant is one of several players around the NBA who won’t become trade-eligible until January 15.
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