Bulls Notes: DeRozan, LaVine, Trade Deadline, Bradley

Bulls wings DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have exhibited improved chemistry in recent games, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes. The Bulls have scored 121 or more points over the last four games, and both players surpassed the 30-point mark in a win over Utah on Saturday.

“It’s coming along. We had a lot of trial and error early on where you saw the inconsistency,” DeRozan said. “We’re just finding our rhythm, sharing the ball, understanding our spots.”

We have more on the Bulls:

  • LaVine feels he’s rounding into form and it’s a natural progression after undergoing left knee surgery in May, Johnson adds in the same story. “It’s what happens when you come off surgery, man,” he said. “Everybody expects you to come back and be yourself or better. But without a lot of training and rehab, you’re going to have to go through those ups and downs. I take it on the chin. I knew I was going to get back to what I was supposed to do.”
  • LaVine has pumped up his trade value with his recent surge, but if the Bulls stay hot, the team could stand pat or even become a buyer before the deadline. LaVine wants to stay in Chicago and believes the team is headed in the right direction, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Every year I get asked the same question [around the] trade deadline,’’ LaVine said. “Whoever is on our team, I fight with those guys, I play for them. I’m happy to be on this team, and I’m happy to say that whoever we play, I’m confident. Front office is going to do what they have to do because it’s their job and their livelihood. I do what I do on the court.’’
  • Center Tony Bradley was placed into the league’s health and safety protocols on Saturday, the first time this season a Bulls player tested positive for COVID-19, according to Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune. Last season, 18 Bulls players and coaches tested positive between Dec. 1, 2021, and Jan. 5, 2022.

Southwest Notes: McCollum, Pelicans Bench, Wood, McGee, Wall

CJ McCollum has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out for Friday’s game against the Grizzlies, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In his first full season as a starting point guard, the Pelicans veteran is averaging 18.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 6.1 APG and 1.2 SPG on .410/.342/.794 shooting through 17 games (35.1 MPG). The rebounds and assists represent career highs, but the FG% and 3PT% are career lows. McCollum has never shot below 37.5% from long distance, so his current figure should rise over time.

With McCollum sidelined in Wednesday’s victory over the Spurs, second-year guard Jose Alvarado started in his place, with Devonte’ Graham and Dyson Daniels receiving more playing time off the bench. That should continue until McCollum is cleared to return.

Here’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Pelicans‘ bench has been a major reason the team has withstood short-term injuries to stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram thus far in 2022/23, according to Christian Clark of (subscriber link). “It’s extremely important if you want to go far in the postseason,” head coach Willie Green said. “Having your second unit come in that can execute, that’s fearless. They play together. They play with joy. It makes all the difference in the world of how far your team can go.” As Clark notes, Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr. have been standout performers off the bench, but multiple players are contributing to wins for the 11-7 Pelicans.
  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News questions why Christian Wood hasn’t received more playing time after the Mavericks dealt their 2022 first-round pick to acquire him from Houston in the offseason. Sherrington writes that the Mavs knew Wood wasn’t a great defensive player when they made the trade, and he’s been highly productive when on the court, averaging 17.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG on .585/.447/.697 shooting in just 25.3 MPG through 15 games. On the other end of the spectrum, Sherrington states that JaVale McGee has been a disappointing free agent addition thus far and probably shouldn’t be getting rotation minutes.
  • Both Wood and head coach Jason Kidd responded to questions about Wood potentially entering the Mavericks‘ starting lineup after Wednesday’s lopsided loss to the Celtics, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. “I think I’m gonna just keep that that personal opinion to myself,” Wood said. “But what I can say is I’m enjoying my time here. I love playing for Dallas. These guys, they support me. They pick me up when I have a bad game. So things are going great.” Kidd said he talks to his staff about possible changes every day, and suggested one might be coming soon. “You’ve got to look at all the combinations you got to see who’s playing well,” he said, per Townsend. “And just understand that sometimes change has to happen. It’s just the nature of sport. There’s no hard feelings or anything personal. This is their job and we’re trying to win ballgames. We’re trying to put the right combinations out there.”
  • In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic, former Rockets guard John Wall talked about mentoring the team’s young backcourt and his relationship with head coach Stephen Silas, among other topics. Wall signed with the Clippers over the summer after being bought out by Houston, and is averaging 11.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.7 APG and 1.1 APG through 15 games (22.1 MPG) as Los Angeles’ backup point guard.

Atlantic Notes: Banton, VanVleet, Harden, Brogdon

The already-shorthanded Raptors lost guard Dalano Banton to a left ankle sprain during Toronto’s 112-104 victory against the Heat on Wednesday, reports Blake Murphy of (Twitter link).

Toronto head coach Nick Nurse is pessimistic about the outlook, indicating that the ankle “doesn’t look too good,” per Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (via Twitter). Nurse revealed that Banton will be undergoing tests to determine the extent of the injury.

The second-year guard out of Nebraska is averaging 6.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG and 1.1 APG for the Raptors as a reserve in just 11.2 MPG, but had a breakout performance on Monday, scoring a career-high 27 points.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet made his return to the floor for Toronto in its Miami victory following a bad cold. He noted that he is continuing to test negative for COVID-19, tweets Lewenberg. “It wasn’t fun but hopefully the worst is behind me, just happy to be back,” VanVleet said. In 39 minutes, he scored 23 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
  • Sixers guard James Harden reveals that he has been progressing positively from his tendon strain, per Derek Bodner (Twitter link). Bodner notes that Harden has indicated he is “on pace” to come back to the floor in line with his initially projected one-month rehab window. “We’ve got a plan,” Harden said, according to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). “We’ve got a script that we’re trying to stick to. All in all, I feel good.”
  • Celtics sixth man Malcolm Brogdon looks set to suit up once again for Boston, having made significant progress in his recovery from a tight right hamstring, reports The Athletic’s Jared Weiss (Twitter link). The 6’5″ vet has not played since November 9.

Northwest Notes: Murray, Nnaji, Pokusevski, Jazz

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is the team’s second star player to enter the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, reports Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link).

The 6’3″ point guard has been playing solidly since his return from an ACL tear that kept him unavailable throughout the 2021/22 season. Through 13 games, Murray is averaging 16.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 3.9 RPG on .429/.355/.767 shooting splits.

Two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic, who entered the league’s coronavirus protocols earlier this week, remains sidelined, and both he and Murray will miss tomorrow’s contest against the Mavericks, Wind adds.

The league’s updated coronavirus policy this season dictates that vaccinated players only need to test for COVID-19 if they exhibit symptoms of the virus. Unvaccinated players are now tested just once a week.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Third-year Nuggets power forward Zeke Nnaji would love more rotation minutes for Denver, and expects to make the most of whatever playing time he gets, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. Given the COVID-19 absence of Jokic, the 6’9″ big man has been able to get a bit more run in the short term. “A lot of the coaches said I had a great camp and made some huge jumps, so I’m just looking to apply that out on the court in an actual game,” Nnaji said. “I have to stay ready. I want to make it hard for them to put me back on the bench… I’m also a relentless rebounder and somebody who plays physical inside as well. I can promise that I will bring energy to the court.” Nnaji is averaging a career-low 6.3 MPG on a deep Denver club this year.
  • Third-year Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski seems to be turning a corner in his development this year, writes Ethan Fuller of Basketball News. The 20-year-old is averaging a career-best 9.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. Fuller adds that Pokusevski has also improved as a more efficient scorer and that the seven-footer seems to noticeably more assertive.
  • Jazz forward Rudy Gay continues to rehabilitate from a third finger MCP joint sprain in his left hand, Utah announced in a press release. The Jazz add that the 6’8″ vet will have his injured finger reevaluated in two weeks. In 12 games this season, Gay is averaging 4.5 PPG and 3.4 RPG across 15.8 MPG.

Lakers Notes: Westbrook, Christie, Schröder, Bryant

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook has undoubtedly performed better since head coach Darvin Ham decided to bring him off the bench. In three games (28.5 minutes) as a starter, he averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on .280/.083/.800 shooting compared to 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists on .449/.415/.810 shooting in nine games (29.6 minutes) as a reserve.

However, as Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group writes, turnovers and unpredictable play have tempered Westbrook’s otherwise solid production since the transition. He’s averaging 4.4 turnovers off the bench and sometimes meanders through important possessions without setting the offense.

According to Goon, Ham replaced Westbrook with rookie Max Christie with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ victory over Brooklyn on Sunday, and the team’s lead went from six points up to 18 in five minutes. Westbrook struggled to close the third quarter, going 0-for-3 with a turnover during a stretch that saw the Lakers’ 16-point lead cut down to three.

There’s mounting evidence that it might be wise for Ham to sit Westbrook at the end of games, Goon notes. Even though it’s been a team-wide issue for the 3-10 Lakers, Westbrook is shooting just 1-for-7 in clutch situations and has the worst plus/minus (-19) on the roster in those minutes.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Christie, the 35th overall pick of June’s draft, has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin tweets. The 19-year-old has been in the rotation over the past four games, averaging 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 50% from three-point range in 20.2 minutes per game over that stretch.
  • Ham told reporters that Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant are probable for Friday’s game against the Pistons, per Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet (Twitter link). Both players underwent thumb surgery just before the regular season began and have yet to play this season, so Friday could mark their 2022/23 debuts.
  • LeBron James was a non-contact participant in Wednesday’s practice, Bresnahan adds. James is considered day-to-day with a left adductor strain. His status will be updated Thursday.

Wizards Notes: Kuzma, Hachimura, Beal, Porzingis, Goodwin

The Wizards played perhaps their best game of the season on Thursday night vs. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, winning 113-105 despite missing stars Bradley Beal (health and safety protocols) and Kristaps Porzingis (left groin strain).

The team’s success on offense could largely be attributed to Kyle Kuzma, who was the go-to scoring and play-making option with Beal and Porzingis unavailable. Kuzma led all scorers with 36 points on 14-of-26 shooting and also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out six assists, playing a role similar to the one Doncic has in Dallas. Kuzma said after the game that he enjoys being a primary ball-handler, though he doesn’t feel the need to match Doncic’s league-high 39.1% usage rate.

“No question I would love to do that, 100%,” Kuzma said, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “I love challenges. Maybe not (39.1%), that’s a little aggressive. I don’t think you can win NBA championships of that nature with that. That’s a lot. But I have that type of ability to where I can make others better, I can score, I can do a lot of different things.”

With a $13MM player option for 2023/24, Kuzma has the ability to become an unrestricted free agent in July, so this is a big year for him. He said on Thursday that he’s trying not to think about that, however.

“I just try to live in the moment. I mean, it’s cliche but I’ve done a lot of soul-searching this summer and I do a lot of meditating and whatever is for me in life is for me. It’s going to come eventually. I’m not tripping,” Kuzma said. “… Money, basketball, the success; it’s going to come. I think I learned that my first go-around with my first contract and I’m just in the moment and I’m just hooping.”

Here’s more on the Wizards:

  • Besides Kuzma, Rui Hachimura was also a standout in Thursday’s win, racking up 23 points and playing good defense. As Josh Robbins of The Athletic notes, both Kuzma and Hachimura will be eligible for free agency next summer, raising the question of whether the team will retain both forwards or ultimately have to choose between one or the other. Kuzma could be a popular trade target this season for teams in need of frontcourt scoring, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today tweets.
  • Beal and Porzingis are both considered day-to-day, according to Ava Wallace of The Washington Post, who notes that Beal first tested positive for COVID-19 and that head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said the guard’s symptoms have subsided “quite a bit.”
  • Promoted from an Exhibit 10 contract to a two-way deal at the end of the preseason, guard Jordan Goodwin is making an impact for the Wizards in the early part of the 2022/23 season. He scored a career-high 17 points on Monday and has been at least a plus-10 and has registered five or more assists in each of the last three games. Wallace at The Washington Post and Robbins at The Athletic both took a closer look this week at what Goodwin is bringing to the team.

Bradley Beal Enters Health And Safety Protocols

Wizards guard Bradley Beal has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the team announced today in a press release. He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game in Memphis and will have to receive clearance based on the league’s COVID-19 guidelines before returning to action.

Beal is the second star to enter the protocols this weekend, joining three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

The league revised its COVID-related protocols over the summer and now requires testing for vaccinated players only when they show symptoms of the virus. Unvaccinated players still must be tested once per week, and players are subject to isolation measures after a positive test.

Beal is vaccinated, per Ava Wallace of The Washington Post (Twitter link). However, he has had some bad health luck so far this season, having also entered the protocols during the preseason due to what turned out to be a false positive test for a case of strep throat, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

After visiting the Grizzlies tonight, the Wizards head to Charlotte on Monday, then won’t play again until they host Dallas on Thursday.

Wolves’ Rudy Gobert Enters Health And Safety Protocols

Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert has been ruled out of Saturday’s game against Houston after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Minnesota announced (via Twitter).

According to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link), Gobert was listed as questionable (illness) for Friday’s loss to Milwaukee, but wound up playing 30 minutes in the game and is now in the protocols, which isn’t a great situation for anyone involved. Gobert was famously the first known NBA player to test positive for COVID-19 in March 2020.

The league revised its COVID-related protocols over the summer and now requires testing for vaccinated players only when they show symptoms of the virus. Unvaccinated players still must be tested once per week. Players are subject to isolation measures after a positive test.

As Chris Hine of The Star Tribune tweets, there is no longer a mandatory quarantine timeline if Gobert tested positive, but he would need to pass the NBA’s testing requirements to be cleared from the protocols. If he doesn’t pass the tests, he can still return to action after 10 days.

The Wolves have had a rocky start to the 2022/23 season after their blockbuster trade to acquire Gobert from Utah in July, currently sitting with a 4-5 record. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has been his normal productive self individually — he’s averaging 12.6 points, a league-best 13.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in nine games (32.2 minutes) — but the starting lineup has struggled offensively.

It was expected that there would be an acclimation period after the Wolves traded two starters in the Gobert deal, and that’s proven to be accurate. Losing Gobert temporarily certainly won’t help, but it’s worth noting that Minnesota started last season slowly and wound up making the playoffs after a second-half surge.

Jazz Notes: Sexton, Conley, NAW, Bolmaro, Strong Start

Jazz point guard Mike Conley has taken new teammate Collin Sexton under his wing and is helping him see the game in a new way, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. With 16-year veteran Conley held out of the second game of a back-to-back set, Sexton received his first start of the 2022/23 season in Saturday’s win over Memphis, recording 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four assists in nearly 32 minutes.

We’ll walk through, and he’ll be like, ‘Alright, what are you doing in this situation?’ And I’ll let him know, and then he’ll be like, ‘Well, in this situation, I think you should do this. Just try it,’” Sexton explained. “During the game, he’ll be like, ‘OK, you got to the basket — now let’s see if you can pitch [the ball] behind two or three times.’ And I’ll do it. And then he’s like, ‘Alright, now the next time, try to see if you can get all the way there [to the rim].’ It’s opening my mind to multiple ways of playing, and also multiple ways of seeing the game, too. I know he sees it from a different angle than I do.”

As Walden writes, the Jazz have been cautious not to overextend Sexton after he only played 11 games last season with a torn meniscus, which required surgery. He’s technically not on a minutes restriction, but that’s partly why he’s only averaging 19.0 MPG.

Sexton is eager to prove his worth after inking a four-year, $71MM deal as part of the Donovan Mitchell sign-and-trade with Cleveland, but he recognizes he’ll have more opportunities as the season goes on, per Walden.

Just giving [it all in] the time that I’m out there and just making an impact. And I might play four-minute spurts, so in those four minutes, giving it all I can, whether it’s pressuring the ball or pushing the ball and changing the pace of the game, whether it’s on the defensive side or offensive side,” Sexton said. “Just trying to use the little time that I’m given just to make sure that they know I’m out there, you know what I mean? Because I know once the season continues to go, more minutes, more time [will come].

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Little-used guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker got an opportunity for extended run with Conley sidelined against the Grizzlies, and he showed that he can be a positive player when given the opportunity, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. Alexander-Walker played solid defense against Desmond Bane and Hardy was pleased with his effort, as Todd relays. “He came in with such a fire,” head coach Will Hardy said of Alexander-Walker. “He really got into the ball with Desmond Bane and I think he got two steals on the ball, just taking the dribble. He has really good instincts and really long arms and he did a good job of just trying to speed up their ball handlers, which I thought was great…It’s a difficult situation. He hasn’t played that much and he got thrown into a big game with Mike out, and I thought he handled himself great.”
  • Second-year guard Leandro Bolmaro, who recently had his third-year option declined by Utah, has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out for Monday’s game against Memphis, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. Rudy Gay and Simone Fontecchio are still in the protocols. Rookie center Walker Kessler (non-COVID illness) has also been ruled out for the contest, according to Jones (Twitter link).
  • How have the Jazz gotten off to a 5-2 start? Tony Jones tackles that topic for The Athletic, concluding that the team’s depth, offensive pressure, floor spacing, and key adjustments from head coach Will Hardy have been instrumental to the surprising seven-game stretch.

Jazz Notes: Clarkson, THT, Markkanen, Gay, Fontecchio

The rebuilding Jazz have enjoyed a surprising 4-1 start to their 2022/23 NBA season, but still seem likely to trade several of their veteran players prior to February’s deadline. That said, Zach Lowe of ESPN suggested in his podcast The Lowe Post that the team is hesitant to offload 2021 Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, who has thrived thus far this year.

“I’ve heard the same stuff that other people have reported, that they are just super reluctant to move Clarkson,” Lowe said on the podcast (hat tip to RealGM). ”They’re really fond of him for whatever reason. So, I would peg him as the least likely of all these Jazz guys to get traded.”

The 6’4″ combo guard out of Missouri has stepped into a starting role for the Jazz this season, and is playing well for the team under new head coach Will Hardy. Through five games, Clarkson is averaging 18.8 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.2 RPG and 0.8 BPG. He’s currently posting shooting splits of .452/.429/.769.

There’s more out of Salt Lake City:

  • 21-year-old Jazz reserve guard Talen Horton-Tucker had his first stellar turn for Utah in a 14-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, two-steal performance in a 109-101 win over the Rockets Wednesday. Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune wonders if that game could be the catalyst Horton-Tucker needs to start clicking with his new Utah teammates. “[When] opportunity presents itself, I’ll always be ready,” Horton-Tucker said.
  • Jazz starting small forward Lauri Markkanen has enjoyed a terrific start to his Utah tenure, to which he in part credits a strong EuroBasket performance this past summer, per Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Through five games, the seven-footer is averaging 22.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.8 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 35.2 MPG. “I think having that experience this summer, coming in confident, I think I showed, yes, to you guys, but even to myself, that I can do all that stuff,” Markkanen told Fischer. “I was the guy this summer. And carrying that over [to Utah], we’ve got a lineup where everybody can do a little bit of everything. But mind-set wise, I’m trying to have that same approach.”
  • Jazz reserves Rudy Gay and Simone Fontecchio have both been placed in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link). Both will miss the team’s Friday contest against the Nuggets.