Northwest Notes: Murray, Edwards, Holiday, Hayward, Banton

A Northwest division showdown in Denver on Wednesday night will go a long way toward determining which team controls the No. 1 seed in this year’s Western Conference playoffs. The Nuggets and Timberwolves will enter the evening with matching 55-24 records and only three games left to play.

Both teams will be on the second end of a back-to-back set. On Tuesday, the Nuggets picked up a 16-point win in Utah, with Jamal Murray scoring 28 points in just 27 minutes of action in his second game back following a seven-game injury absence. Murray is still on a minutes restriction, but looked fresh in the fourth quarter when Denver needed him most, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post.

“Seven games off will do that for you,” Murray told reporters in his post-game media session. “So I feel good. It’s just good to get a flow out there. It’s more conditioning. Your breathing and muscle fatigue throughout the game. … Felt good, comfortable and just ready to play.”

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the Timberwolves kept pace in the race for No. 1 by registering a 130-121 victory over Washington. It was a memorable night for Anthony Edwards, who scored a career-high 51 points while also dishing seven assists. After the win, Edwards credited head coach Chris Finch for making sure he didn’t let up against one of the NBA’s worst teams.

“He put me in the office two, three days ago and said, ‘Look man, we’ve got this Washington game, and we need to win it, need to come ready to play and you can’t treat it like any other game,'” Edwards said (story via ESPN).

The Timberwolves hold the tiebreaker edge over the Nuggets, so if they can pick up a win tonight, their magic number for the top seed in the West will be down to just one.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Although Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was noncommittal on Tuesday when asked if Justin Holiday will be part of his playoff rotation, he indicated he would be comfortable leaning on the veteran swingman, Durando writes for The Denver Post. “I trust him 100%,” Malone said. “He’s a veteran. He’s been around the league for a long time, and he’s proven in the one year with us, he’s proven himself to be trustworthy. Disciplined. Stays ready. Makes open shots. Guards. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him. For a while, he was a guy that would play if there was an injury, and then for the last month or so he’s been a rotation player for us.”
  • The Thunder likely envisioned Gordon Hayward being part of their playoff rotation when they acquired him from Charlotte in February, but it has been a rough adjustment period for the veteran forward, who has averaged just 4.5 points in 16.5 minutes per game in his 23 appearances since the trade. As Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman writes, Hayward is still trying to get comfortable in his new reduced role. “Obviously would be probably better if I was here at the beginning of the year with everybody,” Hayward said. “Every team across the league will tell you that midseason trades are difficult to get everybody adjusted to everybody. Gotta work with what you’re given.”
  • After the Raptors declined to issue him a qualifying offer last June and the Celtics didn’t find room in the rotation for him in the first half of the season, Dalano Banton‘s NBA future appeared tenuous. However, as Jared Weiss of The Athletic details, Banton has enjoyed a career renaissance with the Trail Blazers, averaging 16.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 3.5 APG in 28 games (28.5 MPG) since being sent to Portland in a salary-dump deal at the trade deadline. The Blazers hold a minimum-salary team option for 2024/25 on Banton, who says he “learned a lot” as a reserve in Boston earlier this season.
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