- The 2023 MVP race is tighter than ever in the season’s home stretch, according to the third and final straw poll conducted by Tim Bontemps of ESPN. The 100 media members who submitted five-man ballots to Bontemps picked Sixers center Joel Embiid over Nuggets center Nikola Jokic by a grand total of two points (790 to 788). Jokic actually received more first-place votes (42) than Embiid (40), while Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was also very much in the mix, with the remaining 18 first-place votes and 612 total points.
The Nuggets remain atop the Western Conference despite losing five of their last seven games. Coach Mike Malone says it’s time for his team to start playing at a championship level as the postseason approaches, he told Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
“That’s not up to our standards,” he said of the team’s recent stretch. “This is gonna sound weird for most people, but more important than the wins and losses, is how we’re playing. Yeah, we want to win every night, but as I told our players yesterday, with 10 games to go now, it’s all about getting back to playing and developing championship habits. We got away from that.”
We have more on the Nuggets:
- Reggie Jackson has shot 31.4 percent since he signed as a free agent. Thomas Bryant has averaged just 9.9 minutes since being acquired from the Lakers. Malone says he’s closer to deciding whether they’ll be part of the postseason rotation. “You have to give them an honest look. Can’t just be one or two games. You have to give them an extended look to see what you have,” Malone told Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “But now with 10 games to go, we’ve gotta find a group and a rhythm and give them some opportunities to formulate that on-court chemistry moving forward. And I have a pretty good idea of who that is.”
- Zeke Nnaji is also getting a look late in the season after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six weeks, according to Singer. In his first game back, the 22-year-old power forward played 12 minutes and contributed four points, five rebounds and a block against Brooklyn. Malone said Nnaji made the second unit more athletic and versatile defensively.
- Jamal Murray has averaged 35.8 minutes per game this month despite dealing with right knee inflammation and occasional left knee soreness. Malone said Murray’s health is being monitored on a regular basis, Singer writes. “It’s a daily conversation with Jamal, the training staff,” Malone said. “See where he’s at, not just physically, but mentally as well.”
Two former Nets who returned to Brooklyn Sunday as members of the Nuggets weren’t surprised to see the end of the Kevin Durant–Kyrie Irving era, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Bruce Brown, who spent two seasons with the Nets before signing with Denver last summer, said there were issues behind the scenes that went beyond the turmoil the public saw.
“Once the summer (trade request from Durant occurred), it could happen. They started off playing really well, and then when the Ky situation came about you knew they were going to move him,” Brown said. “So, end of an era.”
Lewis points out that the “Ky situation” could refer to his contentious contract talks last June, his online promotion of an antisemitic film or his trade demand in February after being dissatisfied with the team’s extension offer. Jeff Green, who played for Brooklyn in 2020/21, also indicated that there were forces pulling the team apart.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised,” Green said. “But at the end of the day, we realize that it as a business. It was stuff that both sides couldn’t really control, and it ran its course.”
There’s more on the Nets:
- Continued soreness in his left knee and back caused Ben Simmons to miss his 13th straight game Sunday, and coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t sure if he’ll be able to return before the season ends, Lewis states in the same story. “Not really a timeline or update,” Vaughn said of Simmons, who has only been available for 42 games. “Again, what I can give you is no setback which is good and he continues to progress on court.”
- Moses Brown wasn’t used in his first game since joining the Nets, but Vaughn promised he’ll get a chance to play before his 10-day contract expires, Lewis adds. “(We) still have Day’Ron (Sharpe) and his ability to play for us,” Vaughn said. “But the way I coach, at some point you will see Moses and we’ll see him during the stretch of the next 10 days for sure.”
- Mikal Bridges, who has emerged as a star since being acquired in the Durant trade, blamed himself for Sunday’s loss, saying his defensive effort wasn’t up to par, Lewis notes in another New York Post story. “Personally I take a lot of blame, because I was just poor on the defensive end,” Bridges said. “Obviously I was missing shots early, but that comes with the game. Just missing, that’s just part of it; but I can control playing defense. So that’s what messed me up right now, and that’s on me. I’ve just got to be more locked in on that side of the ball.”
- Denver has now lost five of its last six games, prompting star center Nikola Jokic to acknowledge that the Nuggets “need to be concerned” about their recent slide, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. As Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports writes, it’s not unusual for top NBA teams to let their foot off the gas late in the season, but the Nuggets will need to rediscover their mojo soon rather than counting on flipping a switch once the postseason begins.
The Timberwolves consider All-Star guard Anthony Edwards to be day-to-day with a sprained right ankle he suffered in Friday’s game, Marc Stein tweets.
In an interview with team broadcaster Alan Horton (Twitter link) coach Chris Finch said Edwards is in a walking boot, but the injury is “not as bad as initially feared.” He sat out tonight’s contest after being listed as questionable. More tests on the ankle will likely be conducted Sunday, tweets Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.
Edwards was injured in the first quarter Friday when he rolled the ankle after making a jump pass. He hadn’t missed a game before tonight and is the team’s leading scorer at 24.7 PPG. With 11 games remaining, a prolonged absence could be devastating for Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The Wolves are eighth in the tight Western Conference race, but are just one game ahead of 11th-place Utah.
There’s more from the Northwest Division:
- Finch admitted the Timberwolves will have to adjust their offense while Edwards is sidelined, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Minnesota has a 109.6 offensive rating in its minutes with Edwards on the bench, which would rank last in the league. Rudy Gobert has been scoring more since the Wolves traded for Mike Conley, notes Krawczynski, who adds that Jaden McDaniels and Jordan McLaughlin appear ready to handle a larger role in the offense. “We still have other players who can put the ball in the bucket,” Finch said. “We’ll be less of an iso team. You lose Ant’s dynamic big-shot making. Of course, you lose everything he brings. … We’ll have to rely more on ball movement, more on body movement, pass-pass combinations, those types of things.”
- The reeling Nuggets held a team meeting this week after Tuesday’s loss at Toronto, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Denver remains on top of the Western Conference, but is dealing with a late-season slump, dropping five of its last six games. “Who do we want to be?’” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We can’t keep losing like this, we didn’t start off like that. It’s not the time to be losing games that we’re supposed to be winning. It’s crunch time. … It was all about just who we want to be at the end of the season. ‘Do we want to be champions or we just wanna go home?’”
- Kelly Olynyk is valuable because he does so many underappreciated things, but the Jazz have to consider who will take over that role in the future, notes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Olynyk will turn 32 in April and has just a $3MM guarantee on next season’s contract.
The Warriors and Lakers were the biggest contributors in revenue sharing for the 2021/22 season, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.
Those franchises combined to pay more than $88MM to smaller-market teams last season. A total of 10 teams paid out $163.6MM in revenue sharing. Adding in approximately $240MM in luxury tax payouts, there were 20 teams collecting a total of $404MM.
Topping the list of revenue sharing beneficiaries was the Pacers, who collected $42.2MM. The Nuggets ($35.5M) and Trail Blazers ($32M) rounded out the top three, according to Wojnarowski.
We have more from the basketball world:
- For all lottery-bound teams, May 16 is the big night. That’s when the lottery will be held, the NBA’s PR department tweets. The G League Elite Camp will be held May 13 and 14, while the draft combine will take place from May 15-21.
- UCLA guard Amari Bailey, Missouri forward Kobe Brown and Furman forward Jalen Slawson were among the draft prospects who helped their cause in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report details.
- While Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic was seemingly pulling away from the pack for the Most Valuable Player award earlier this season, the race has tightened up the last few weeks, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. Joel Embiid has pulled even with Jokic, according to a prominent Las Vegas sportsbook, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is very much in the running due to the Bucks’ surge to the top of the East.
- The recent turmoil among regional sports networks affects 18 NBA teams, prompting The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov to detail what changes could be coming to the industry and what steps those franchises might take.
- Nuggets rookie Christian Braun saw his minutes reduced during a stretch of games in late February and early March, but has been back in the rotation this week. Head coach Michael Malone said it’s been hard to keep Braun off the floor, since he has a knack for making “winning play after winning play,” writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “He’s playing with confidence,” Malone said. “He’s running the floor, rebounding, making the most of his opportunity, not getting frustrated when he’s out of the game. We need him to continue to do that and be ready for the playoffs.”
After their loss to Toronto on Tuesday, the Nuggets have now dropped four straight games, and they haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of opponents during that time. In addition to the loss to Toronto, Denver’s recent defeats have been at the hands of Chicago (by 21 points), San Antonio, and Brooklyn, with two of them coming at home.
On Tuesday, head coach Michael Malone suggested the Nuggets seem to be in “chill mode,” adding that the team needs to find a way to get its “swagger” back (story via ESPN.com).
“Maybe we’ve gotten a little soft with success,” Malone said. “We’ve been on cruise control for so long, No. 1 in the West since like December 15. I just told our players we’ve gotten away from who we are.”
The Nuggets still control the No. 1 spot in the West by four games with just 13 left to play, but Malone will want to see his team firing on all cylinders entering the postseason, since there will be significant pressure on Denver – and its head coach – to make a deep playoff run, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Adam Mares of DNVR Sports discussed on the latest episode of The Lowe Post podcast.
“I don’t know if it’s championship or bust, but if this team loses before the conference finals, it’s going to be a disappointment,” Lowe said (hat tip to RealGM). “If they lose in the first round, it’s going to be a catastrophe that I think will push some potential changes.”
Here’s more from around the Northwest:
- While this season hasn’t played out quite how the Timberwolves hoped, their signing of Kyle Anderson has turned into one of the best free agent additions in team history, contends Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. As Krawczynski acknowledges, Minnesota doesn’t exactly have a long history of great free agent signings, but Anderson’s impact on this year’s club shouldn’t be understated.
- Jazz guard Collin Sexton, who has been sidelined since February 15 due to a hamstring strain, is “dying” to get back on the court, head coach Will Hardy said this week. “He’s getting close,” Hardy said, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. “… It’s frustrating ’cause he’s such a competitor and he wants to be out there. But he finds a way to channel all that energy to let it rip on the bench. I’ve had to tell him to sit down multiple times ’cause of the new rule where you can’t stand in the corner, and I’ve had multiple officials say, ‘Hey, you gotta tell Sexton to sit down.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m trying, but I can’t really control him — that’s how he is.'”
- After appearing in six G League games with Sacramento’s affiliate, Trail Blazers two-way player John Butler Jr. has been transferred back to Portland, the team announced on Tuesday (via Twitter). The Blazers don’t have an NBAGL team of their own, so Butler was in Stockton, where he averaged 8.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 3.2 BPG in 24.0 MPG.
Christian Braun‘s playing time has diminished since the Nuggets signed veteran point guard Reggie Jackson. Braun may warrant a return to the second unit, considering his performance on Sunday against Brooklyn, Harrison Wind of TheDnvr.com writes. Braun had seven points, three rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes. Braun is also one of the team’s better defenders, Wind adds, and got an endorsement from the team’s franchise player.
“He was good. I actually told him, not just his energy, he actually played really good,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said of the first-round pick out of Kansas. “He had good minutes. He was talking on the floor. He was running correct. Energy, you need to have energy when you play, especially him.”
- Jamal Murray departed the Nuggets’ loss to the Nets in the third quarter on Sunday due to left knee soreness. However, a source told the Denver Post’s Mike Singer (Twitter link) that Murray was “fine.”
- Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar was available to play against Brooklyn on Sunday, coach Michael Malone told Mike Singer of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Cancar missed three games with a wrist sprain and also didn’t play against San Antonio on Friday.
- The Nuggets’ second unit has been unsettled after changes were made during and after the trade deadline, Singer writes. Reggie Jackson has struggled with his shooting (29%) since becoming the backup point guard and Thomas Bryant has been relatively quiet since he was brought in to back up Nikola Jokic. “We’re still trying to figure stuff out,” swingman Bruce Brown said.