Jayson Tatum

Nikola Jokic Named Most Valuable Player

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has been selected as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in four years, the league announced (via Twitter).

Jokic won the Michael Jordan Trophy by a wide margin, showing up on all 99 ballots and collecting 79 votes for first place, 18 for second place and two for third place, giving him a total of 926 points. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished second, collecting 640 total points by coming in first on 15 ballots, second on 40, third on 40, fourth on three and fifth on one.

Rounding out the top five were Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (4-36-50-8-0-566), Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (1-1-4-44-23-192) and Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (0-3-1-28-32-142).

Also receiving votes were Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0-0-1-14-39-89), Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (0-1-1-1-3-18), Kings center Domantas Sabonis (one fourth-place vote) and Suns forward Kevin Durant (one fifth-place vote).

Jokic becomes the ninth player to claim at least three MVP awards (Twitter link). He ties Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone, and trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (five each), and Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James (four each).

The Nuggets celebrated the honor by tweeting a video tribute to Jokic narrated by his wife, Natalija.

Jokic posted another outstanding statistical season, averaging 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in 79 games. He shot 58.3% from the field and 35.9% from three-point range as Denver claimed the second seed in the Western Conference.

Bennett Durando of The Denver Post took a closer look at Jokic’s historic season, noting that he finished fifth in the league in total points, third in total rebounds and second in total assists. He also collected 25 triple-doubles and posted a true shooting percentage above 65% for the third straight season while leading the NBA in most advanced stats, including PER, VORP, box plus-minus, and win shares.

“I think he’s stated his case pretty well,” Jamal Murray said today before the award was announced. “He does it every night. It’s hard to do what he does and face the kind of pressure that he does each and every day. He does it in the smallest ways. He makes everybody around us better. He’s a leader on the court and someone we expect greatness from every time he steps on the court. And he’s delivered. … He’s been so consistent all his career, all his MVP runs. He’s been so consistent. So I don’t expect one or two bad games to sway that in any way.”

Celtics Notes: Porzingis, Horford, White, Tatum

Holding a commanding 3-1 lead against an injury-riddled Heat team, the Celtics may not need any more contributions from Kristaps Porzingis to get through the first round of the playoffs. But Boston’s odds of winning a title this spring would take a serious hit without a healthy Porzingis available in future rounds.

After the Celtics announced on Tuesday that Porzingis would miss Game 5 on Wednesday due to a right soleus (calf) strain and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the big man is expected to miss multiple games, Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe clarifies (via Twitter) that no one considers it to be a season-ending injury.

According to Himmelsbach, the Celtics have yet to provide a specific timeline for Porzingis’ recovery and potential return because they want to see how he responds to treatment first.

Appearing on FanDuel’s Run it Back show on Wednesday morning (Twitter video link), Shams Charania of The Athletic said he expects the club to treat the soleus strain like a “week-to-week” injury, suggesting that Porzingis might end up missing just a week or two, though there’s a chance he’ll be sidelined for longer than that.

Here’s more on the Celtics as they prepare for a possible close-out game at home vs. the Heat:

  • For as long as Porzingis is unavailable, Al Horford is expected to move into the starting lineup, with Luke Kornet and Xavier Tillman acting as his primary backups at the five, writes Jay King of The Athletic. As King observes, Horford played 21 of the final 24 minutes in Game 4 following Porzingis’ exit, but that level of workload likely won’t be sustainable for the 37-year-old on a regular basis going forward, so the team will need effective minutes from its reserves.
  • Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, and Porzingis combined to shoot just 17-of-47 (36.2%) from the field in Game 4, but Derrick White‘s 38 points on 15-of-26 shooting helped propel the team to victory. In a separate story for The Athletic, King takes a look at White’s career night and details why his teammates want to see him continue to seek out his own offense. “When he’s being aggressive it just opens everything up,” Tatum said. “Whatever they’re trying to take away, maybe for myself, when your teammates are hitting shots and being aggressive and attacking closeouts and making plays, it really makes us very, very hard to guard. You want everybody to be assertive and be aggressive and try to make plays. It just makes us a better team.”
  • As we relayed on Tuesday, Tatum turned an ankle during the fourth quarter of Game 4 when he came down on Bam Adebayo‘s foot while attempting a jump shot after a whistle (Twitter video link). The star forward was ultimately fine, but Horford wasn’t happy about Adebayo contesting Tatum’s shot and getting into his landing area during a dead ball. “I know that we get to playing around and trying to contest shots after fouls and things like that, but there’s levels to contest,” Horford said, per Souichi Terada of MassLive.com. “And if a guy shooting and the play is over with, just kind of let him be. I know he’s trying to compete over there, but I was just mad. I don’t want to see any of my guys get hurt or anything like that. Thankfully, JT is fine, but it could have been bad.”

Celtics’ Porzingis To Miss Game 5 With Strained Calf

4:30pm: Porzingis is expected to miss multiple games, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

4:03pm: Porzingis has been ruled out for Game 5 due to what the Celtics are calling a right soleus strain (Twitter link via Brian Robb of MassLive.com).

The soleus is the same calf muscle that has sidelined Giannis Antetokounmpo since the final week of the regular season, though it’s unclear whether Porzingis’ strain is as severe as Antetokounmpo’s.

7:40am: The Celtics took full control of their first-round series vs. Miami on Monday by picking up their second consecutive road victory and extending their series lead to 3-1. However, as Chris Herring of ESPN writes, the Game 4 win might have come at a cost, as big man Kristaps Porzingis exited in the second quarter due to a right calf injury and didn’t return.

The Celtics’ starting center is expected to undergo an MRI on Tuesday to assess the severity of the ailment, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who hears from sources that early indications are that Porzingis didn’t suffer an Achilles injury.

Porzingis initially appeared to start limping with about 3:15 left in the second quarter when he stepped on Tyler Herro‘s ankle (video link). However, he turned his left ankle on that play, and the injury was said to affect his right calf, so it may have been unrelated. Less than a minute later, as he caught a pass from Jaylen Brown, Porzingis began limping again and gestured toward the bench that he needed to be subbed out of the game (Twitter video link).

Porzingis has been relatively healthy for the past two seasons, appearing in 57 regular season games in 2023/24 and 65 a year ago. But he has missed significant time due to health problems in the past, having made just 151 total appearances in the four seasons prior to 2022/23. As such, any injury is a concern, though there have been some signals that this isn’t a significant one.

Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston reported at the start of the second half that Celtics assistant Charles Lee was “cautiously optimistic” that Porzingis would be OK (story via Brian Robb of MassLive). And Porzingis himself tweeted after the win that he “will be good.”

If Porzingis is unable to play in Game 5 on Wednesday, it would mean an increased role for Al Horford, with reserve bigs Luke Kornet, Xavier Tillman, and Neemias Queta moving up on the depth chart. As Jared Weiss of The Athletic notes, Boston gave up a pair of second-round picks at February’s trade deadline for Tillman precisely so the team didn’t find itself shorthanded in the frontcourt in a situation like this.

“Luke, Xavier, Neemie, have to kind of be ready to step up and answer the call,” Horford said after the game, per Weiss. “They’ve been doing a good job of that all year. Obviously, it’s the playoffs now, it’s different, but I have confidence in those guys if they need to come in and bring energy and impact the game.”

The Celtics had another injury scare in the fourth quarter of Game 4, as Jayson Tatum turned an ankle when he came down on Bam Adebayo‘s foot while attempting a jump shot after a whistle (Twitter video link). However, Tatum was able to walk it off and finish the game — he’ll presumably be good to go for Game 5.

Atlantic Notes: Melton, Brunson, Sixers Comeback, Tatum

The Sixers may have another rotation player available for Game 3 of their first-round series with the Knicks tonight. De’Anthony Melton practiced on Wednesday and could suit up on Thursday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

“I’m feeling good,” Melton said after the practice. “I’m ready for the game tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes.”

Melton averaged a career-high 11.1 points per game this season and is a strong perimeter defender. He has played only seven games since Dec. 30 due to a spinal injury.

“I think for me, the little things, rebounding, boxing out, getting deflections, getting steals,” Melton said of the impact he could make.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Despite his team being up 2-0 in the series, Knicks star guard Jalen Brunson isn’t happy with his production. He’s shooting 29.1% from the field during the first two contests, with the Sixers sending extra bodies to force tougher shots. “The easy answer is I need to adjust and I need to be more poised, just understand what they’re doing and just flat-out be better,” Brunson said, per Peter Botte of the New York Post. “There’s no gimmicks to it. It’s just, ‘Jalen, you need to be better.’ And it’s that plain and simple.”
  • Their ability to keep Brunson in check with Kelly Oubre Jr. as the primary defender is one of the reasons why the Sixers should be optimistic about rallying in the series, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. The fact that Joel Embiid has been able to effectively play through a sore knee is another reason to believe a turnaround is coming.
  • Following their 111-101 home loss to the Heat on Wednesday night, Celtics star forward Jayson Tatum said it’s his team’s turn to counter Miami’s adjustments, Brian Robb of MassLive.com relays. “I think we’ve gotta be more creative,” Tatum said. “The playoffs are about making adjustments game to game, and they did that. They’re not just going to let us catch the ball, they’re not just going to let us throw it to (Kristaps Porzingis) easy. They’re supposed to try to mess things a little up, and make it a little bit tougher. So it’s our job to react in real time, as well as make our adjustments going from game to game.”

Atlantic Notes: Bogdanovic, DiVincenzo, Tatum, Maxey

Trade deadline acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic came up big for the Knicks in Game 2 against the Sixers on Monday despite a sore left wrist, Stefan Bondy of the New York Post notes. Bogdanovic, whose $19MM contract for next season is partially guaranteed for $2MM, hit a couple of 3-pointers and added two assists in 12 minutes.

“We had a lot of contributions from different people,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought Bogey came in, hit some big shots to start the fourth.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks wing Donte DiVincenzo was benched in the fourth quarter of Game 1 but he was prominent throughout the second half of Game 2. He wound up playing 37 minutes and hitting the decisive 3-pointer, giving him 19 points for the game. “We practice that every day: dagger 3s and second-chance 3s,” he said, per Peter Botte of the New York Post.
  • Jayson Tatum is just fine after Caleb Martin‘s hard foul in Game 1 of the Celtics’ series with the Heat on Sunday. Tatum, who hit the floor hard on that play, practiced in full on Tuesday, The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn tweets. Game 2 will be played on Wednesday night.
  • Sixers forward Nicolas Batum felt that Tyrese Maxey was a “no-brainer” for the Most Improved Player award. Maxey was named the winner on Tuesday. “This is the first award that after 30 games people were like, ‘Maxey’s the Most Improved Player.’ It was pretty much a no-brainer. I’m very happy to see him get it,” Batum told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He deserves it with the work he puts in, and the way he carried himself this year. I’m just happy for him.” center Paul Reed added, “He deserves it for sure.” 

Kawhi Leonard Completes Team USA’s Star-Studded Roster For Olympics

Team USA has completed its selection of an All-Star laden 12-player roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics, Shams Charania and Joe Vardon of The Athletic report (Twitter link). Kawhi Leonard was chosen for the final roster spot, USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt tweets.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday the 11 other selections for the roster. Team USA received a firm commitment from Leonard on Tuesday, Wojnarowski tweets.

Unlike USA Basketball’s FIBA World Cup roster last summer, which lacked size and interior strength, the Olympic roster is filled with quality bigs. Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis will be joined at the power positions by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The wings will be manned by Jayson Tatum, Leonard, Devin Booker and Anthony Edwards. Jrue Holiday, Tyrese Haliburton and Stephen Curry round out the backcourt.

Haliburton and Edwards are the only players from the FIBA World Cup roster to make Team USA’s Olympic roster.

Team USA has won the gold medal in each of the last four Summer Olympics.

Team USA Locks In 11 Of 12 Olympic Roster Spots

The Team USA men’s basketball program has determined 11 of its 12 roster spots for this year’s Paris Olympics, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Woj suggests that the final roster opening could remain open for a while. Sources inform Wojnarowski that Hall of Famer Grant Hill, Team USA’s managing director, is waiting for a July training camp and some Las Vegas exhibition games before finalizing that 12th spot.

10 of the 11 players were honored as All-Stars this season, while the 11th was a key two-way force on the 2021 gold medal-winning team, which is officially considered the 2020 Olympic team.

Here are Team USA’s 11 players:

So far, three NBA teams – the Lakers, Celtics, and Suns – will feature multiple U.S. Olympians.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, serving again as the leader of Team USA this summer, will have just one current familiar face in All-Star point guard Curry, who will be making his Olympic debut. Among the other players listed, four others will be making their debuts with the program on this stage: reigning league MVP Embiid and young All-Star guards Edwards and Haliburton.

As Woj notes, 35-year-old Durant is one of just two players to have won three gold medals in Olympic history, along with future Hall of Fame forward Carmelo Anthony. James is playing in his first Olympics since 2012. James and Anthony were also members of Team USA the last time it didn’t win gold at the tournament, in 2004.

And-Ones: West, MVP Race, All-NBA, Comanche

NBA legend Jerry West is being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for a third time, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Previously enshrined as a player (1979) and as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team (2010), the 85-year-old has now been elected as a Hall of Fame contributor.

The latest induction into the Hall of Fame recognizes West’s work as a team executive, including general manager stints with the Lakers and Grizzlies, as well as time spent as a consultant for the Warriors and Clippers. West won eight championships in those roles, per ESPN, and won Executive of the Year awards in 1995 and 2004.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Atlantic Notes: Tatum, Maxey, McBride, Thomas

Celtics star Jayson Tatum played in his 65th game of the season on Wednesday against Milwaukee, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That means the 26-year-old will be eligible for postseason awards, including All-NBA.

As Marks observes, Tatum already met the performance criteria for a super-max extension by a earning spot on the All-NBA First Team each of the past two seasons. However, he needed one more year of service time to meet the experience requirement. Tatum will be eligible to sign what is projected to be the most lucrative extension in league history at the beginning of July.

If that comes to fruition, which is highly likely, Tatum will be the second Celtic on a Designated Veteran contract, also known as the super-max. Jaylen Brown signed his own super-max extension last summer.

Tatum is having another excellent season in 2023/24, averaging 27.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.9 APG and 1.0 SPG on .474/.382/.830 shooting in his 65 appearances (35.7 MPG) for Boston, which holds (by far) the best record in the NBA at 55-14.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey had scored exactly 30 points in three straight games entering Wednesday’s contest vs. Phoenix, but registered a season-low six points in 30 minutes during the loss to the Suns, notes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscriber link). Maxey, a first-time All-Star who will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, shot just 3-of-13 from the floor. Philadelphia is currently 38-31, the No. 8 seed in the East, but the team only trails No. 6 Indiana by a half-game (one win).
  • In a subscriber-only story for The New York Post, Stefan Bondy details how Miles McBride‘s diligent work ethic has helped him stay ready for big minutes when called upon. The Knicks guard had a career-high 29 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) in 47 minutes on Monday while being tasked with shadowing Stephen Curry. As Bondy writes, McBride comes from a family of athletes — his father Walt was a professional player and coach. “I was a defender,” said Walt. “His brother (Trey, a pro in Germany) is a defender. His mom was a tennis player, so that lateral movement is also important to defending.”
  • The Nets have had a disappointing season, currently holding a 26-43 record. But the development of third-year guard Cam Thomas continues to be a bright spot for Brooklyn, writes Dan Martin of The New York Post. Over the past six games, Thomas is averaging 26.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 3.3 APG on .475/.405/.848 shooting (34.2 MPG), and he’s one of just a few players who have excelled under interim head coach Kevin Ollie, Martin notes. “It’s my first year really playing, actually figuring out how an NBA game actually works,” said Thomas, who called his playing time in his first two seasons “sporadic.” “They say Year 3 (for me), but it’s really like my rookie season. Being a key player on the scouting report instead of, my first two years, I was probably popping up sporadically, surprising teams off-guard with my scoring outbursts.”

And-Ones: Cousins, LeBron, Redick, Value Contracts, 2025 FAs

Former All-NBA big man DeMarcus Cousins will be returning to the Taiwan Beer Leopards in mid-April, according to Chen Jung-chen and James Lo of Focus Taiwan. Cousins played four games for the Leopards in January.

Super excited to be back and gearing up for an epic season of playoffs with my teammates and all of you,” Cousins said in a video released on the team’s Facebook page. “Your support means the world, let’s lock it in and go all the way for this championship run.”

While he hasn’t officially announced his retirement from the NBA, the 33-year-old said in an interview last month that he doesn’t really expect to be back in the league. Since playing for the Nuggets in 2021/22, the four-time All-Star has been out of the NBA, competing professionally in Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Lakers superstar LeBron James and ESPN commentator JJ Redick are starting a new podcast that’s “planned to be a pure conversation about basketball,” reports Andrew Marchand of The Athletic. “It’s meant to be a very free-flowing conversation about the sport and about the game,” former NBA sharpshooter Redick told Marchand. “If you look at it in a very simplistic way, it’s just about basketball.” A teaser of the Mind the Game podcast was released on YouTube, with the first full episode debuting tomorrow.
  • With several caveats (no maximum or minimum-salary deals, no rookie scale deals, no second-round exception deals), Keith Smith of Spotrac lists what he believes are the 10 best value contracts in the NBA. Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, the East’s reigning Player of the Week, ranks No. 1, followed by Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 2.
  • Frank Urbina and Raul Barrigon of HoopsHype rank 75 players who could potentially be free agents in 2025, with the top spot going to Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, followed by Knicks star Brunson. Donovan Mitchell (Cavaliers), Scottie Barnes (Raptors) and Lauri Markkanen (Jazz) round out the top five.