Deandre Ayton

Northwest Notes: Ayton, Henderson, Billups, Murray, Hayward, Conley

Deandre Ayton and rookie point guard Scoot Henderson are developing the on-court chemistry that the Trail Blazers have been hoping to see, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. That duo led Portland to a pair of road victories this week, combining for 46 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists on Wednesday at Charlotte and 53 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists on Friday at Washington.

Ayton said Henderson, who hit a game-winning shot to beat the Wizards, is learning how to impose his will on teams in his first NBA season.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it right now,” Ayton told reporters. “Scoot’s being extremely poised in certain situations in the game no matter the momentum and he’s just really taken over.”

The short-handed Blazers have relied on Ayton to become their on-court leader, Fentress notes. Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Matisse Thybulle and Malcolm Brogdon are all out of the lineup, leaving Ayton as the only player with significant NBA experience.

“DA doesn’t get the credit for being as smart as he is on the floor,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “He’s understanding the angle in which he has to set the screens for Scoot as teams try to go under him. I say it all the time with that pick-and-roll, it’s the point guard and the big guy, it’s a two-way relationship. It takes some time to get used to. You can see them starting to develop some chemistry in the coverages that teams play against us and against Scoot, which obviously is totally different than with (Simons). So, it takes some concentration to be honest with you, but I just love to see that chemistry developing between those two guys.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Billups called his selection to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall a Fame a bright spot in a difficult season for the Trail Blazers, Fentress adds in a separate story. “This definitely comes at a good time,” Billups said. “I think not just from me but just our group. Just to have some positivity. To have some good things to talk about about our organization, about our team. Because it has been a very tough year. But this has come at a really good time for all of us.”
  • Jamal Murray returned to the Nuggets‘ lineup on Saturday after missing seven games with inflammation in his right knee, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. Durando notes that Murray wore wraps on his knee and back during part of his pre-game warmup.
  • Thunder forward Gordon Hayward exited Friday’s game early due to soreness in his lower left leg, tweets Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. He and Jalen Williams are both listed as questionable for today’s game at Charlotte.
  • Timberwolves guard Mike Conley flew from Phoenix to Memphis on Saturday so he could be part of a jersey retirement ceremony for former teammate Marc Gasol, according to Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune (Twitter link). Conley will catch a flight to Los Angeles in time for tonight’s game with the Lakers.

Trail Blazers Notes: Injuries, Sharpe, Henderson, Reath

At 19-52, the Trail Blazers don’t have much left to play for, but they don’t intend to shut down any of their injured players for the rest of the season, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Portland started five rookies Saturday night because of injuries to rotation members, but coach Chauncey Billups hopes to eventually have his regular lineup together.

“I think we have so much growth and development that needs to happen,” Billups said. “Obviously, we know we’re not going to the playoffs. But these dudes need to get better. They need to get to know each other while paying. The only way you get better at basketball is playing basketball.”

Jerami Grant is dealing with a hamstring issue that has sidelined him for the past two weeks, and Malcolm Brogdon hasn’t played since February 2 because of tendinitis in his elbow. Billups expressed hope that both players can return before the end of the season, along with Shaedon Sharpe, who has been out since January due to core muscle surgery, and Anfernee Simons, who had an MRI on Sunday after leaving Friday’s game with a knee injury. Simons is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, which suggests that the injury isn’t that serious. Deandre Ayton, who missed the past two games with tendinitis in his left elbow, is also questionable.

The Blazers ended the past two seasons by sitting out players to improve their lottery odds, but Billups would rather see progress from his current group than focus on the draft. His teams have been hit hard by injuries since he took over as coach three years ago, but he hasn’t lost 60 games in a season and he wants to avoid reaching that total this year.

“I hate that I’m used to it,” he said of dealing with injuries. “But I’ve learned that it’s something that I can’t control, obviously. I try to always be positive and give whatever I have to whoever is playing the best I can. But it has been tough.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • Sharpe has been assigned to the organization’s G League team, marking an important step in his comeback, per Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report. Sharpe will practice with the Rip City Remix while the Blazers are on a two-week road trip and if he responds well, he may be back in the NBA during the final week of the season.
  • Scoot Henderson is sad to see the G League Ignite shutting down after it helped prepare him for the NBA, Highkin adds in a separate story (subscription required). “The coaches, they don’t get enough credit for having to get guys from high school, to get them up to speed in a few weeks to play some grown men that have children to feed,” Henderson said. “You don’t see that. You see them getting beat a lot and having a horrible record. You don’t see the things that they go through day-to-day. From my viewpoint, they helped me in a huge way to be where I am right now. I can’t thank them enough.”
  • Andrew Lopez of ESPN traces the remarkable journey of Duop Reath from his childhood in war-torn South Sudan to becoming an NBA rookie at 27. Reath was playing in Australia when he got a scholarship offer from Lee College in Texas. He eventually transferred to LSU, spent some time in Serbia, China and Lebanon, landed a spot on the Australian Olympic team and played four years in Summer League before getting his NBA opportunity. “I felt a sense of gratitude,” Reath said. “Reflecting on my journey, I feel like every experience played a major role to put me in the position I am today.”

Northwest Notes: Trail Blazers, Henderson, Gobert, George

The Trail Blazers started five rookies in tonight’s game against Denver, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The lineup consisted of Scoot Henderson, Kris Murray, Rayan Rupert, Toumani Camara and Duop Reath, marking only the second time that a team has started five first-year players since the NBA began tracking starters in 1970/71. The 2012 Warriors were the first, according to a tweet from the Blazers.

The move was necessitated by the team’s lengthy injury list, which grew even longer when guard Anfernee Simons had to leave Friday’s game in the third quarter after hurting his left knee. Coach Chauncey Billups told reporters that Simons will undergo an MRI on Sunday.

Deandre Ayton missed Friday’s game with tendinitis in his left elbow, which is also keeping him out tonight. Jerami Grant is already sidelined with a hamstring issue, and Malcolm Brogdon has been out of action since early February with elbow tendinitis. Billups expressed hope that Grant and Brogdon can return before the end of the season.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Friday marked Henderson’s best performance since suffering a groin injury during the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, observes Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (subscription required). The No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, who posted 24 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and two steals in the Trail Blazers‘ loss to the Clippers, talked about his experience with the “rookie wall.” “It’s a longer season now, so you kind of get that wall a little later,” Henderson said. “After 50 games in the G League, you’re like, ‘OK, let’s play another one.’ But when you hit 50 or 60 [in the NBA], it’s a little tougher now.”
  • Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert is determined to not let the pain from a sprained rib keep him out of the lineup, per Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops“You got to embrace the pain sometimes. Sometimes the pain of watching hurts more than the pain of the injury itself,” Gobert said. “It is all about playing through that. As long as I can move, able to impact the game, I am going to be out there.”
  • The Timberwolves fired a team employee this week for stealing thousands of files, some of which contained “strategic NBA information,” according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Somak Sarkar was charged with felony third-degree burglary.
  • Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune examines the high turnover rate for Jazz rookie guard Keyonte George and how it might impact his NBA future.

Northwest Notes: Conley, Ayton, Giddey, Nuggets

Mike Conley had 25 points in the Timberwolves 119-100 win over the Jazz on Saturday. The former Utah point guard admits he took extra satisfaction in the outcome, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Jazz played a video tribute to the current Timberwolves floor leader prior to the contest. “There was a little bit [of extra motivation]. Not gonna lie,” Conley said. “But at the same time, man, I was trying to have fun. … Just trying to soak up the moment. You get a video played and that doesn’t happen very often and it just shows so much gratitude.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Deandre Ayton said he had some personal struggles adjusting to playing in Portland after getting traded by Phoenix, he told Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Ayton feels much more comfortable now and it’s showing in his production. The Trail Blazers center has averaged 27.2 points and 15.0 rebounds over his last five games. “I felt like I adjusted quickly. But at the same time, it’s good to acknowledge that we are human and things like that do have to take into place where you have to adjust to certain cities and teammates and things like that,” Ayton said.
  • Opponents are sagging off Josh Giddey and the Thunder guard is learning how to adjust to that strategy, according to Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. Giddey is a 30.4% three-point shooter during his three-year career. He’s averaging 14.4 points on 11.6 shot attempts this month. “Sometimes it can be a confidence killer. Seeing a big guard gap you and daring you to shoot the ball,” he said. “But you have to stay confident. You have to trust it because the second you don’t, they win and it falls into their hands.”
  • The Nuggets lost for just the second time in 13 games since the All-Star break on Sunday. Dallas’ Kyrie Irving hit an improbable hook shot at the buzzer. “You look at the wins, bro,” Jamal Murray told Bennett Durando of the Denver Post. “We’ve been winning, and two losses, trying to find a common denominator, like, bro hit a left-handed floater from the top of the key going away from the basket. It’s an amazing shot. And we played terrible up until the last couple minutes, so we’re fighting and we were just happy to be in that position, the way we played throughout the game.”

Northwest Notes: Ayton, Murray, Wolves, Jazz

After an uneven first few months with his new club, Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton has been living up to his self-styled nickname (“DominAyton”) over the past several weeks, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report.

I think we’ve unlocked him,” head coach Chauncey Billups said. “We’re getting the best version of him. He’s been a monster.”

As Highkin writes, since January 24 — a stretch that covers 16 games for Ayton — the Bahamian center has averaged 20.0 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG and 0.9 BPG while shooting 63.2% from the field and 94.7% from the free throw line in 33.5 MPG. In Wednesday’s victory over Atlanta, the 25-year-old scored a season-high 33 points (on 15-of-20 shooting) and pulled down 19 rebounds, the second time in three games he’s had at least 30 points and 19 boards.

Coming into these games, I’m trying to do everything,” Ayton said, per Highkin. “Not only do my requirements, my role for this team, but do a lot more. That’s where I’m at. I’m more dominant. People like to laugh at it, but it’s the truth.”

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray doesn’t hold any individual awards, but he knows he’s respected and feared by his opponents, he told Melissa Rohlin of Fox Sports. “Of course,” Murray said when asked if he thought he was one of the best players in the league. “And I strive to be the greatest. I want to be the best player ever. Obviously, if you don’t shoot high, then you’re never going to get there. I think (Nikola) Jokic is the greatest player right now. And I try to be a close second.” A brilliant postseason performer, the 27-year-old said he has his sights set on the award his teammate Jokic won last year: Finals MVP.
  • With Karl-Anthony Towns out at least four weeks following knee surgery, it’s natural that people would begin to question the Timberwolves‘ status as a postseason contender, despite their excellent season to this point — they’re currently 45-21, one game back of the top-seeded Nuggets. According to Chris Mannix of, Minnesota is embracing being an underdog. “We got a team full of dogs, man,” said point guard Mike Conley. “We got guys who want the opportunity that we have. It’s all uphill and people are doubting and that’s where we work best, I think. We’re just going to go out there and do what we do, block the noise out and kind of hold it down until he gets back and be ready to go.” The Wolves have gone 2-2 since Towns was injured.
  • The Jazz provided injury updates on three injured players on Wednesday, per Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter links). Rookie forward Taylor Hendricks (toe sprain) was a full practice participant yesterday, while Lauri Markkanen (right quadriceps contusion) was a partial participant. Hendricks has missed the past three games, while Markkanen has missed four straight. Jordan Clarkson (right groin strain) did not practice. Larsen speculates that Hendricks could return on Friday vs. Atlanta, but the other two players may take a little bit longer to return.

Northwest Notes: Gobert, Wolves, Ayton, Henderson, Sharpe, SGA

Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert picked up an ill-timed technical for making the “money” sign to officials after fouling out Friday night, but he didn’t back away from his accusation that their calls can be influenced by gambling, according to Joe Vardon and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The technical, which allowed the Cavaliers to tie a game that they went on to win in overtime, came after Gobert was whistled for his sixth foul with 27.8 seconds remaining. He admitted that his reaction was a mistake, but he believes the reasons behind it are justified.

“Mistakes happen. Referees make mistakes, too,” Gobert said. “But sometimes I think it’s more than mistakes. I think everyone that’s in this league knows. I think it’s got to get better.” After saying he expects to be fined for his comments, Gobert added, “I know the betting and all that is becoming bigger and bigger, but it shouldn’t feel that way.”

Gobert has a history of being outspoken about officiating throughout his career, the authors note. Speaking to reporters because head coach Chris Finch was ill, assistant Micah Nori called it “unacceptable” to get T’d up in that situation, no matter how strongly Gobert feels about the subject.

“We just have to be smarter,” Nori said. “I think he made a visual or something, it’s kind of automatic. And we all know Rudy. There’s no more professional guy than him. In that moment, for him to do that, obviously he feels awful about it. We just gotta be a little bit better.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Chris Hine of The Star Tribune examines how the Timberwolves can survive without Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s lost for at least four weeks with a torn meniscus. Hine points to Kyle Anderson, Naz Reid, Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley as players who have to contribute more until Towns returns.
  • The Trail Blazers welcomed back starting center Deandre Ayton and rookie point guard Scoot Henderson tonight. Ayton had been sidelined since spraining his right hand in a February 27 game, and Henderson hadn’t played since before the All-Star break because of an adductor strain. Coach Chauncey Billups said Henderson will start out under a minutes restriction, but will eventually be reinstated into the starting lineup, tweets Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report. Billups also expressed hope that Shaedon Sharpe can return from core muscle surgery before the end of the season (Twitter link). “This has been tough on him,” Billups said. “He wants to play 82 games. He’s one of those guys. … If he’s healthy, we’d love to have him back. I don’t care how much of the season is left. He’s a guy who needs those reps.”
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander believes the Thunder have the talent to compete for an NBA title this season, telling ESPN (video link), “I think we’re capable of anything.”

Injury Notes: Lonzo, LaVine, Scoot, Ayton, Middleton, Maxey

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan shared some good news on Lonzo Ball on Saturday, telling reporters – including K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago – that the veteran point guard has begun more advanced rehab activities, including sprinting, cutting, and jumping. It’s a positive development, given that Donovan said last month that Ball hadn’t yet been cleared to sprint.

“Some of the workouts have been really, really positive and he has progressed,” Donovan said today. “He has responded well. Some of the things that medical guys have shown me is he looks good moving. I’m just really happy for him personally for his progress. He has worked hard to put himself in this position. And hopefully, he can continue to progress.”

Ball, who last suited up for an NBA game in January 2022, has undergone three surgeries on his left knee since then, including a cartilage transplant approximately a year ago. The next step in his recovery would be getting cleared for contact, but there’s no set timeline for him advancing to that stage, according to Donovan.

The Bulls’ head coach also provided an update on Zach LaVine, who underwent surgery on a “non-union Jones fracture” in his right foot last month. As Johnson relays, LaVine is ahead of schedule in his rehab process and is aiming to be back to full strength in three months rather than the four-to-six months initially projected. Either way, we shouldn’t expect to see the guard back in action until the fall.

Here are a few more injury-related updates from around the NBA:

  • A pair of injured Trail Blazers appear on track to return to action on Saturday, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter links). Scoot Henderson, out since the All-Star break due to a left adductor strain, and Deandre Ayton, who has missed the past five games due to a sprained right hand, have both been listed as probable to play vs. Toronto.
  • Bucks head coach Doc Rivers said on Friday night that Khris Middleton (left ankle sprain) could play on Sunday for the first time since February 6, tweets Mark Medina of Sportskeeda. As Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel observes, Middleton has been sidelined long enough that he’ll fall short of playing in 62 games, which means he’ll miss out on earning a $1.5MM bonus in his contract.
  • Sixers head coach Nick Nurse described Tyrese Maxey‘s concussion symptoms earlier this week as “very mild,” per Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and told reporters on Friday that he was optimistic about the guard’s chances to play on Sunday in New York (Twitter link via Mizell). However, Philadelphia has officially listed Maxey as out for that game. Unless that designation changes by Sunday night, it will be the fourth consecutive game he has missed.

Injury Notes: Ball, Ayton, Exum, Reddish

LaMelo Ball has been sidelined since January 26, having missed the Hornets‘ past 16 games due to what the team initially referred to as right ankle soreness and later diagnosed as ankle tendinopathy. Asked on Thursday where the star guard is in his recovery compared to two weeks ago, head coach Steve Clifford offered few specifics and didn’t give any indication that Ball’s return is imminent.

“It’s hard to tell,” Clifford said, per Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link). “Look, he’s doing the same stuff now that he was doing two weeks ago. I don’t know that stuff. He does what they allow him to do. There’s a lot of factors in that, obviously. Like today, he did a lot of shootaround. He’s been doing that for a while.

“He wants to be back. Again, he doesn’t feel healthy enough and people aren’t comfortable enough that he should play. I don’t really know how to answer that. He does shootaround and things like that. He does his work. I know he wants to get back. There’s just a lot of factors on that one.”

The Hornets are 11 games back of the final play-in spot in the East with just 23 contests remaining, so the team has little to play for down the stretch and can afford to be extremely cautious with Ball, whose five-year, maximum-salary rookie scale extension will go into effect in July.

Here are a few more injury notes from around the league:

  • Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton underwent further testing on the right hand injury he sustained on Tuesday, and those tests confirmed the hand is sprained, a source tells Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter link). Ayton is considered day-to-day, per Highkin. The former No. 1 overall pick is listed as doubtful to play on Friday in Memphis.
  • Mavericks guard Dante Exum – who missed nine games in January due to a right plantar sprain, then 13 more in January and February due to right knee bursitis – played on Wednesday for the first time in over a month (Twitter link). A starter for 14 games in the first half of the season, Exum may not reclaim that role for a Dallas team that is deeper and healthier than it was earlier in 2023/24, but he played nearly 17 minutes off the bench in his first game back, recording four points, five assists, and three rebounds.
  • Cam Reddish returned this week from a right ankle injury that cost him 14 games, but he doesn’t appear to be feeling 100% quite yet. Reddish was on the court for just four minutes in the Lakers‘ win over Washington on Thursday, with head coach Darvin Ham telling reporters after the game that the forward experienced soreness in that ankle, prompting the team to sit him for the rest of the game in favor of Max Christie (Twitter link via Jovan Buha of The Athletic).

Injury Notes: Embiid, Ayton, Thomas, George

The Sixers continue to believe that star center Joel Embiid, who underwent surgery on the meniscus in his left knee earlier this month, should be able to return to the court before the end of the regular season, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Tuesday during an appearance on NBA Today (YouTube link).

“They still are optimistic that they can get him back,” Wojnarowski said. “I think there’s some hope that they can get him back on the court by sometime in late March, back starting to get into condition. The goal here isn’t necessarily to try to bring him back and see how many regular season games you might be able to win with him. The goal is to get him as healthy as he can be for the postseason.”

When the Sixers announced Embiid’s procedure on February 6, they said he would be reevaluated in four weeks. As Wojnarowski notes, that means we’re still about a week away from the team providing a more official update on the reigning MVP’s progress and possible timeline.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • X-rays on Deandre Ayton‘s sprained right hand came back negative, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said on Tuesday after Ayton left the team’s loss to Miami early (Twitter link via Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Portland center is in the clear. “I think there will be some further testing because he was in quite a bit of pain,” Billups said (link via ESPN).
  • Nets guard Cam Thomas underwent an MRI on his sprained right ankle on Tuesday, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post. While the results haven’t yet been announced, Thomas said on Monday that he doesn’t believe this ankle injury is as severe as the one that cost him nine games in November.
  • The Clippers will be without star forward Paul George for a second straight game due to left knee soreness, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Head coach Tyronn Lue said that George didn’t practice on Tuesday and wouldn’t be available on Wednesday vs. the Lakers after having sat out Sunday’s loss to Sacramento.

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Ayton, Murray, Gordon, Flagler

Scoot Henderson received his first start since Jan. 14 on Thursday and Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups plans to keep him in the lineup, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter links).

“The biggest thing is he deserves it. He’s just played really well,” Billups said. “I’ve wanted him to earn everything he gets. And he’s done that.”

Henderson, the third pick of last year’s draft, averaged 19.0 points and 5.6 assists in the previous five games.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Deandre Ayton has averaged 17.8 points on 62% shooting from the field, 11.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 blocks in his last 10 games. The Trail Blazers center missed 12 games due to a knee injury and returned to action on Jan. 19. Ayton feels he’s fitting in better by taking inventory of his past mistakes, he told Casey Holdahl of the Blazers’ website. “I’ve been trying to humble myself a little bit and just accept the challenge, have some humility when it comes to failure,” he said. “Not try to rush anything. We’re a young team but we’re an exciting team as well. We just can’t skip no steps and we have to go through these growing pains a little bit where we’re just trying to know each other, really.”
  • Jamal Murray was passed over for All-Star recognition yet again this season, but he has something more important — a championship ring. The Nuggets guard expressed that sentiment to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. “I’m an All-Star when you need the All-Star to show up — in the playoffs,” he said. “You want the best to step up (then), right? And I think I do a good job of that. So I kind of backed myself up in that way. That’s it. That’s what it is. So it’s just more fuel to the fire. But (not being selected an All-Star) doesn’t hurt me like that, psychologically. I haven’t made it for so long, and I’m a champion. And I’m on the best team in the world playing with the best player in the world.”
  • The Nuggets enter the All-Star break on a three-game skid and Aaron Gordon tells The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando that some time off is exactly what they require. “I think everybody needs a break,” Gordon said. “Everybody needs some rest. I think that’s what it comes down to. When you’re fatigued, not only is your body tired, but your mind is tired, too. Your ability to focus is just not as laser-sharp.”
  • Adam Flagler‘s two-way contract with the Thunder is for two seasons, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets. Flagler, an undrafted guard playing with the team’s G League affiliate, signed on Saturday.