Lauri Markkanen

Eastern Notes: Simmons, Nets, Cavaliers, Bitadze

Nets guard Ben Simmons won’t play on Thursday in Philadelphia, but he’s expected to be with the team at Wells Fargo Center, reports Shams Charania of Stadium (video link). Simmons figures to face plenty of vitriol from the Sixers faithful, but it will likely be diluted to some extent by the fact that he’ll be on the bench rather than on the court. According to Charania, there’s optimism that Simmons will make his Nets debut later this month.

  • If the Nets were to win a title this year, it would be bad for the NBA, argues Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Brooklyn has “blatantly treated the regular season as a waste of time,” according to Bondy, who notes that Kyrie Irving essentially chose not to play in over half of this season’s games, while the team traded a superstar for a player (Simmons) who will require a ramp-up process of more than a month.
  • Having sustained both a quad contusion and a fractured finger in Sunday’s game, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen has reportedly been ruled out indefinitely. While the team hasn’t issued an update on Allen’s status, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen sound prepared to adjust their roles if the All-Star big man misses time, as Kelsey Russo of The Athletic relays. Kevin Love would play in my position; it would just shift down the line,” Mobley said. “Lauri could also play four more often because it would be less. But we still got like three bigs, me, K-Love and Lauri. So we’re still a very big team, and I feel like we can still play a similar way as we have.”
  • Pacers center Goga Bitadze had a career night on Sunday with 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting, as James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star writes. The third-year center, who hasn’t been a regular part of Indiana’s rotation since being drafted in the first round in 2019, has a chance to prove his value down the stretch before becoming extension-eligible this summer.

Cavaliers Notes: Markkanen, Garland, LeVert

After several weeks of rehabbing his injured right ankle, Lauri Markkanen is eager to help the Cavaliers make a playoff push, as Chris Fedor of relays. Markkanen suffered a high ankle sprain on Jan. 22 against Oklahoma City and has missed Cleveland’s last 11 games.

Markkanen was a full participant in practice Wednesday and is listed as probable for the team’s game Thursday. A source told Fedor that the Cavs are preparing as if the forward will return Thursday at Detroit. Markkanen said he was relieved that the injury wasn’t as serious as he initially thought and is excited to be back.

I’m excited,” Markkanen said when asked about his impending return. “We always talk about playing meaningful games after the All-Star break and it’s definitely every game matters. I just love doing it with these guys and can’t wait to get out there.

We have a great group of guys and we’re a great team. We just have to bring it every night, no matter who we are playing and we gotta play Cavaliers basketball every night. I think we’re going to be fine if we do that and play together. We definitely need everybody at this point of the year. Going to need everybody’s contribution on the court. Have to be focused, especially with Eastern Conference being so tight. Every game matters. Have to be locked in.”

The Cavs currently hold the fourth seed in the East with a 35-23 record.

Here’s more from Cleveland:

  • While the team received good news with Markkanen’s return appearing imminent, Cleveland will be without Darius Garland and Caris LeVert on Thursday, Fedor writes in a separate article for Garland continues to have lower back soreness, while LeVert suffered a sprained right foot after he stepped on a teammate’s foot during Tuesday’s practice.
  • Sources tell Fedor that LeVert’s injury isn’t serious and he’s considered day-to-day. He did not practice on Wednesday. During the All-Star break, coach J.B. Bickerstaff had been contemplating starting the newly-acquired LeVert alongside Garland in the backcourt. Bickerstaff is still trying to figure out where LeVert is most comfortable on the court. “Had some conversations about where he’s comfortable, where he likes the ball, places where he’s had most success in his past,” Bickerstaff said. “I think we have a great understanding of how we can get it done. The next thing becomes actually going out and doing it. That involves the other four guys that are on the floor with him, and understanding how they build that chemistry. Our picture is clear, we just need the experience and the minutes together to make it successful.” Developing that chemistry will have to wait with LeVert sidelined.
  • Garland’s situation is much trickier, Fedor details. He was able to participate in All-Star weekend, where he was named to the team for the first time, but his lower back will need to be managed for the remainder of the season, sources tell Fedor. Garland has been dealing with the soreness since Jan. 9, and the pain can pop up during any type of contact. With the nature of his injury, in most cases Garland would need two weeks of rest to allow for proper healing, treatment and recovery, per Fedor’s sources. However, Garland doesn’t want to miss that much time, and the Cavs need him to win games. They will continue to closely monitor how he’s feeling and try to give him rest days during the season so he’s in good shape for the playoffs — assuming they make it.

Cavaliers Notes: LeVert, Rondo, Bickerstaff, Markkanen

It didn’t take long for Caris LeVert to show the Cavaliers that he can help close out games, writes Joel Lorenzi of The Indianapolis Star. Acquired in a trade with the Pacers on Monday, LeVert hit four baskets late in Friday’s game to snuff out a rally by his former team. With Darius Garland sidelined by injury, the Cavs turned to LeVert for crunch-time scoring in his second game with the team.

“(Coach J.B. Bickerstaff) was trusting me all game to be honest with you,” LeVert said. “I was missing some easy bunnies around the rim, and he kept the faith. … I knew I would find my rhythm late in the game. It’s everything when your teammates have that much confidence in you.” 

Levert, who suddenly finds himself in a playoff race, has been a welcome addition to Cleveland’s offense because of his ability to create his own shot. This is the second straight year that LeVert has been traded, and he acknowledged that the constant rumors were getting to him.

“It’s hard to play in games and think about where you’re gonna be in the next couple of days, so that situation was extremely tough,” he admitted. “Honestly, I was just ready for it to be over. Whether I was staying in Indiana or getting moved wherever, I was just like, ‘I can’t wait for this damn deadline.’ Because you hear rumors every single day, and we’re human beings. At the end of the day, it’s not just (NBA) 2K.”

There’s more from Cleveland:

  • LeVert didn’t ask to leave Indiana, but there were indications that he was an uncomfortable fit in coach Rick Carlisle’s offense, Lorenzi adds. LeVert suggested to Jarrett Allen during Friday’s game that he’s much happier in his new situation. “He was telling me on the bench ‘You know man it just feels so good to be able to play just free, play free with this type of team, not have to worry about some guy glaring you down,’” Allen said.
  • Another Cavalier who welcomed a change of scenery this year is Rajon Rondo, per Chris Fedor of Acquired from the Lakers in early January, Rondo has been playing 21.7 minutes per game since the deal. He calls Bickerstaff his “dream coach,” and it appears the feeling is mutual. “I have the ultimate amount of confidence in him,” Bickerstaff said. “Regardless of the time he’s been with us, you watch his career as a whole and you see all the things that he’s done in this league and the respect you have for those things that he’s done, those things that impact winning. It’s not a game that’s just about numbers, it’s a game of ‘How do I orchestrate this to help this team win?’ He’s done that for a really long time.”
  • Lauri Markkanen, who hasn’t played since January 22 because of a sprained ankle, worked out on the court before Friday’s game and is being considered day to day, tweets Kelsey Russo of The Athletic.

Central Notes: Cavaliers, Bucks, Pistons, Washington Jr.

Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen suffered a sprained ankle on Saturday and multiple sources told Chris Fedor of that “The Finnisher” is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks. Markkanen left the arena on crutches and in a walking boot following Cleveland’s 95-93 win over New York on Monday.

In Markkanen’s absence, Dean Wade returned to the starting lineup. Although Wade has only seen sporadic action this season, appearing in 33 out of 48 games, coach J.B. Bickerstaff has entrusted the 25-year-old big man to be an injury-replacement starter. Wade has started 17 games, with the Cavs holding a respectable 9-8 record in those contests, Fedor writes.

We’re confident we’ve got guys who can fill that spot,” Bickerstaff said. “We will play some more traditional lineups because of who’s available, but the style that we play and the system that we play shouldn’t change much. We’re comfortable with Dean Wade in that position.

He takes care of business every single day. We have a trust in him that we know when his number’s called, he’s going to be ready to go. That’s not easy to do. You see guys who are in and out of the lineup, they have a hard time. He understands where his opportunities are gonna come and the job that he has to do, and what he needs to do to go out and handle that. Obviously, he made big shots for us down the stretch.”
Here’s more from the Central Division:
  • Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton, who’s out for the season following meniscus surgery in his left knee, is making solid progress in his recovery and hasn’t ruled out returning to the court if Cleveland makes the postseason, according to Fedor in a separate article for Sources within the team don’t expect Sexton to be back for a potential playoff run, but they also know not to count him out, as the fourth-year guard is known for having an outstanding work ethic.
  • Eric Nehm of The Athletic provides a trade deadline primer for the Bucks, noting that Milwaukee is limited in potential deals by being a luxury tax team. He believes Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr. or P.J. Washington could theoretically fit well with the team, but creating the frameworks for those trades is difficult. Goran Dragic, Thaddeus Young, Robin Lopez and Mike Muscala are names to watch on the buyout market, according to Nehm.
  • Rod Beard of The Detroit News explores five things to watch from the Pistons during the second half of the season.
  • Pacers rookie guard Duane Washington Jr., who’s on a two-way contract, set an Indiana rookie record with seven three-pointers in the team’s 117-113 loss at New Orleans on Monday, James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star writes. Washington brings positivity and enthusiasm wherever he goes, according to coach Rick Carlisle. “He has a real grateful vibe,” Carlisle said. “Every day he comes in with a smile on his face, a real positive view of the world in general and he loves to play basketball. He loves to work at being a great teammate, and he plays the game in a very pure way.”

Lauri Markkanen Believed To Have “Pretty Significant” Ankle Sprain

Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen left tonight’s game with what trainers believe is a “pretty significant” sprain of his right ankle, according to Chris Fedor of

Markkanen was injured on a collision with four minutes left in the second quarter and had to be helped to the locker room. A source tells Fedor that the team’s medical staff examined his ankle, but not his knee or Achilles. More information won’t be available until further testing is conducted.

Markkanen was trying to defend Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a drive to the basket, but landed awkwardly on his right leg and fell to the court. He was on the floor for a while, grabbing the ankle in pain, and couldn’t put much weight on it as he headed to the locker room.

The 24-year-old has been an important part of the turnaround for the Cavs, who were fifth in the East at 27-19 entering tonight’s game. Markkanen is averaging 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds in 37 games this season, and Fedor notes that he is shooting 41.4% from three-point range through 10 games in January.

Central Notes: Vucevic, Donovan, Pickett, Livers, Markkanen

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic is confident he’ll work his way out of a slump, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Vucevic most recently shot 3-of-15 in a loss against Miami, struggling to make shots inside the paint, in the mid-range areas, and behind the arc.

“I got some post-up and hook shots that I’ve made a career of, and nothing was falling for me,’’ he explained. “I look at all the games, and really I don’t have an explanation of what’s going on with my shot. It’s something I was always very consistent with and really good at my whole career – I was always a 50% shooter – so I don’t know.

“It’s just very disappointing for me because I’m trying to just be there for my team and do what I need to try and help us win, and I’m not doing that right now. I’m coming up short for my teammates and that’s the most frustrating part. When you lose and you don’t play well, you feel like it’s even more of your responsibility.’’

The Bulls are currently missing nine players due to health and safety protocols, meaning they badly need Vucevic’s production. The team acquired him and Al-Farouq Aminu (now a free agent) from Orlando last season, giving up Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter and two first-round picks.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls coach Billy Donovan refuses to use COVID as an excuse, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes. “We’re not the only team dealing with this,” Donovan said. While Chicago isn’t the only team dealing with an outbreak, the Bulls have certainly been hit the hardest. Nevertheless, the club has maintained a .500 record in its last 10 games and is currently 17-10.
  • The Pistons called up Jamorko Pickett and Isaiah Livers from their G League affiliate on Sunday, Keith Langlois of tweets. The decision was made shortly after the team announced that Jerami Grant would miss at least six weeks with a thumb injury.
  • Lauri Markkanen‘s obligation to serve in the Finland military isn’t expected to impact his NBA availability, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype writes. Markkanen has started in 19 games for the Cavaliers, who own the fifth-best record in the East at 16-12.

Central Notes: LeVert, Sexton, Markkanen, Vucevic, DiVincenzo

The Cavaliers‘ search for a scoring guard to replace the injured Collin Sexton and the Pacers‘ interest in moving some of their veteran players could lead to a possible trade, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Cleveland looks like a legitimate contender in the East with seven wins in its last nine games and will probably be seeking an upgrade before the February 10 trade deadline. An obvious area to address is replacing the 16.0 points per game that Sexton delivered before being lost for the year with a torn meniscus.

Caris LeVert is struggling with his shot this season, hitting just 42.1% from the field and 28.9% from three-point range, but he has a history of being a productive scorer. He is under contract for $17.5MM this season and $18.8MM in 2022/23, and at age 27 he fits in well with the Cavs’ timeline.

Indiana is known to like Sexton, who is only 22 and will be eligible for restricted free agency after the season. Vardon isn’t sure if the Pacers will commit to him in light of the injury, although it could allow them to re-sign him to a shorter, low-cost deal while he works his way back.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen has to fulfill a commitment to Finland’s military, but it shouldn’t affect his NBA availability, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.
  • Bulls center Nikola Vucevic has been struggling with his shot after missing two weeks with COVID-19 and he expressed his frustration after Saturday’s loss in Miami, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Vucevic was just 3-of-15 from the field and missed several opportunities close to the basket. ‘‘It’s tough when you want to play well and go out there and help the team win and don’t do your job,’’ he said. ‘‘I have a lot of pride in myself and put the work in, obviously. It’s not working for me right now, but that’s part of it. I’ve never been through a slump like this, and I just have to work myself out of it. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.’’
  • When Donte DiVincenzo makes his season debut this week, he will return to a Bucks team that has changed since DiVincenzo suffered an ankle injury in the playoffs, notes Brian Sampson of Forbes. The offseason addition of Grayson Allen, who has become a starter in the backcourt and has provided a shooting upgrade, will likely push DiVincenzo into a reserve role, but he remains valuable because of his defense and rebounding.

Central Notes: Carlisle, Allen, Markkanen, Mobley, COVID

Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle delivered a wake-up call by benching the team’s starters against Charlotte on Friday, James Boyd of the Indianapolis Star writes. Carlisle pulled his opening group with eight minutes left in the third quarter, clearly unhappy with the way they were playing.

Indiana’s reserves then closed a 25-point deficit and nearly took the lead, but Charlotte managed to hang on for a 121-118 win. Carlisle’s decision led to the Pacers giving a better effort on Saturday in a 111-94 victory.

“Energy and effort, you gotta bring it every night,” star big man Domantas Sabonis said. “It’s a long season, a lot of games, and sometimes it’s hard to bring it. But it has to be a collective group, not (just) one or two guys can bring it because then the defense breaks down or on offense someone’s not committed to what we’re doing. (Saturday) felt like everybody was committed and good results showed.”

There’s more from the Central Division tonight:

  • Cavaliers big men Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen are set to return on Monday against the Nets, according to Chris Fedor of (Twitter link). Markkanen has missed nine games due to the league’s health and safety protocols, while Allen has missed three due to an illness. Cedi Osman (back) and Lamar Stevens (ankle) are doubtful for the contest, Fedor adds.
  • Speaking of the Cavaliers, the team plans to be cautious with rookie Evan Mobley in his recovery from a sprained elbow, Fedor writes in a story for Mobley is making progress, but he was given a two-to-four-week timetable just under a week ago. In 15 starts this season, the 20-year-old has averaged 14.6 points, eight rebounds and 33.7 minutes.
  • Matt Sullivan of examines the secret COVID outbreak that caused fear within the NBA, Bucks and Suns during last season’s Finals. The series still went on as planned, with Milwaukee winning the championship in six games.

Central Notes: Allen, Markkanen, Love, Diallo, Carlisle

The Cavaliers are hopeful they’ll be closer to full strength by Monday, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets. Jarrett Allen missed the team’s game against the Lakers on Thursday with an illness. Lamar Stevens is rehabbing from a right ankle sprain and Lauri Markkanen is reconditioning after a bout with COVID-19, but there’s a belief that all three players could return early next week.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers forward Kevin Love didn’t require hospitalization but his bout with COVID-19 was a rough one, according to Fedor“I went through it,” Love said. “The first four or five days were pretty tough. All the usual symptoms that I think people might get. Crazy muscle aches, sensitive skin, can’t smell, taste, muscle spasms, fatigue. Then just chest and head got hit pretty tough as well.” Love had 11 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes while playing for the first time this month on Wednesday.
  • Pistons wings Hamidou Diallo and Josh Jackson have been fighting for minutes on the second unit. Diallo had five DNPs this month but played 14 minutes in the team’s win over Indiana while Jackson was benched. Diallo made a layup on the only shot he attempted and had two rebounds but coach Dwane Casey thought he was way better than the stat sheet indicated. “He played within himself, got the rebound, got it to the point guard and defensively, he was solid,” Casey said. “He did a great job in our traps, even forced (Indiana) to call a timeout.” Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and Diallo could return to free agency as well if the club declines its option on his 2022/23 contract.
  • Pacers coach Rick Carlisle felt his team simply didn’t play hard enough in an eight-point loss at Detroit on Wednesday, James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star relays. “This isn’t a ball movement issue. This is a hard play issue,” Carlisle said. “(Detroit) played harder. They took us out of the majority of things that we were trying to do offensively in the first half, and we’ve just got to play harder and with more force at both ends.”

Lauri Markkanen Enters Protocols, Expected To Miss Several Games

Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and has been ruled out for Wednesday’s game against Portland, the team announced today (via Twitter).

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), Markkanen is expected to miss several games while he remains in the protocols. That could mean he has tested positive for COVID-19, though that hasn’t been confirmed.

Markkanen is the second Cavaliers player to enter the protocols this week, joining teammate Kevin Love.

After being acquired via sign-and-trade this offseason, Markkanen has started all eight of the Cavaliers’ games to open the regular season, joining Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley in a jumbo-sized frontcourt. Markkanen’s production has been below his usual level as he adjusts to his new team — his 12.9 PPG, .361 FG%, and .280 3PT% would all be career lows.

With Markkanen and Love sidelined, the Cavs figure to lean more heavily on Allen and Mobley up front. Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, and Lamar Stevens are among the club’s backup forwards who could take on increased roles.