Michael Porter Jr.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Porter, Watson, Malone

The Nuggets opened their NBA title defense on Saturday night by beating the Lakers for the ninth straight time, and Jamal Murray warns that they weren’t at their best in the 11-point victory, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. Throughout the first half, Denver couldn’t convert on open three-point opportunities as L.A. constantly threw double teams at Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets were just 6-of-23 from long distance in the first 24 minutes, and Murray believes the increased playoff excitement played a role.

“I think it’s just a greater energy (at the beginning), you know what I’m saying? You put a little bit more on your jump shots. I did for sure,” Murray said. “I remember last year, Game 1 against Minnesota, it was the same kind of thing. You’re just anticipating so much energy, so much adrenaline running through your body, sometimes you’ve just gotta relax and just take a shot like it’s practice. I wasn’t shooting like it was practice in the first half.”

The bright side for the Nuggets is that they only trailed by three points at halftime despite all those misses. Murray believes calmness and execution are the keys to the series, and he said he had no sense of panic when his team fell behind by 12 points.

“I just think we know what we want. We’re not trying to anything different. We’re not trying to, like, make stuff up,” Murray said. “Everybody knows where they should be, and they know (if they are) where they should be, they’ll get open shots. So that’s the beauty of this team. It’s just pure basketball. There’s no fighting like how it is in the park … where you don’t know where the shot’s gonna come from.”

There’s more from Denver:

  • Michael Porter Jr. is grateful for the support of his Nuggets teammates amid an excruciating week for his family, Durando states in a separate story. After his brother, Jontay Porter, was banned for life from the NBA for gambling-related violations, Michael was in a courtroom Friday as another brother, Coban, was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a woman last year in a drunk driving crash. “Each one of them texted me separately and just told me they’ve got my back. If I need anything, they’ve got me,” Porter said. “Yeah, a lot of people were reaching out. Friends, family. So to have these guys understand why I missed practice yesterday and just have my back has been big for me.”
  • Peyton Watson saw very limited action during last year’s title run, so this series marks his first real taste of the NBA playoffs, notes Ryan McFadden of The Denver Post. The second-year swingman, who entered the rotation after the loss of Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency, has become a valuable defender and an elite shot blocker off the bench. “I don’t think anybody questioned my ability or my capabilities to go out there and perform and help our team win. I think everybody’s question was, ‘Is he gonna be able to handle it mentally?’” Watson said. “I think that’s the part I’m most far along with now.”
  • Before Saturday’s game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone talked to reporters about entering the playoffs for the first time without his father, longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone, who died in October, Durando adds in another piece.

Northwest Notes: Billups, Blazers, Porter Jr., Sarr, Biyombo

Chauncey Billups is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract with the Trail Blazers, who hold a team option on the 2025/26 season. Billups realizes that the team needs to show significant improvement in order for him to get an extension, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report.

“In this business, I always feel like you’re trying to prove what you can do and what kind of coach you can be,” he said. “I’ve always felt that way and I feel no different going into next year. I’m looking forward to that opportunity to be able to prove how good I can be. In this league and any league in the professional ranks, you’re always coaching for your job. It’s a part of the business. But that doesn’t scare me. I’m not worried about it. I’ll be fine. I’m looking forward to it.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Blazers are planning to improve from within rather than making aggressive moves for high-priced veterans that could cost them major resources, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian reports. “We’re heavily invested in a lot of our young guys, so development will continue to be a focus,” GM Joe Cronin said. “We’re not going to win at an extremely high level until some of those guys are ready. But at the same time, it’s our job to give them the best environment to thrive in. And often that’s with additional help. I think this year there were some flaws in the roster, especially in some missing skill sets and just in general imbalance, where it made it complicated for those guys to reach their highest potential.”
  • Jontay Porter‘s ban from the NBA for gambling-related violations has taken a toll on his brother, Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., Bennett Durando of the Denver Post tweets. “It has not been easy for him,” coach Michael Malone said. “That’s why I give him credit, because he’s carrying so much in his heart and in his mind.”
  • Thunder big man and two-way player Olivier Sarr suffered a left Achilles tendon rupture during the G League Finals on Monday night, according to a team press release. In 15 games this season with the Thunder, Sarr averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in 6.5 minutes. Sarr also saw action in 18 games with the Blue and averaged 14.0 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 28.2 minutes.
  • Bismack Biyombo fainted during a game in early March. The Thunder center revealed to Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman that he was dehydrated due to fasting. Biyombo has fasted at various times throughout his career for religious reasons.

Raptors Notes: Porter, Agbaji, Size, March, Barrett

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. defended his brother — Raptors forward Jontay Porter — who is at the center of an NBA investigation regarding betting irregularities, according to ESPN. The elder Porter said his younger brother Jontay wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his NBA career.

The investigation is the result of prop bets involving Jontay on Jan. 26 and March 20, games in which he exited early and his unders were described by DraftKings as the No. 1 money-making bet in each of those games. Jontay hasn’t publicly addressed the situation and has missed the past three games for personal reasons. He’s averaging 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 26 games (five starts) on a two-way deal with the Raptors this season.

Michael Porter Jr. said he had no more details than the media did but that he vouched for Jontay, who has been more than happy to be in Toronto on a two-way deal this season.

Jontay loves the game of basketball… I’ve known my brother my whole life. I know what type of dude he is and I know he’s excited to play basketball, and I highly doubt he would do anything to put that in jeopardy,” said Michael, who also discussed how betting affects players, including how they receive backlash if they don’t play up to the bettors’ standards.

So, it’s a part of the game now. I think that it’s obviously a dangerous habit. It’s a dangerous vice for people,” he said. “You know, the love of money is the root of all evil. So, I think that even though it is a thing, we as players just have to accept that. We get paid a lot of money to play this game, and I know these people, these fans, they want to make some money, as well. It’s definitely something that has kind of taken over the sporting world — I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

We have more from the Raptors:

  • Ochai Agbaji had a scary fall on Wednesday against the Knicks, landing hard on his back and being down for several minutes before being helped to the locker room, The New York Post’s Peter Botte observes. Agbaji did not return with a right hip contusion. After the game, head coach Darko Rajakovic said Agbaji got X-rays but they didn’t show any signs of a fracture. “For a second it was really scary because he couldn’t move at all,” Rajakovic said. Agbaji won’t play on Sunday, according to The Athletic’s Eric Koreen (Twitter link), but he’s all good and seems to mainly just be sore.
  • After trading away OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa, the Raptors are lacking in size, Sportsnet.ca’s Michael Grange writes. Jakob Poeltl, Chris Boucher and Scottie Barnes, as well as Agbaji and Porter, are out. That left the Raptors with just Kelly Olynyk, Jalen McDaniels and Jordan Nwora as the only players on the standard roster available on Wednesday who were 6’8″ or above — 6’9″ two-way forward Mouhamadou Gueye was available as well.
  • The Raptors are heading into their final game of March at 1-13 in the month, with the sole win coming in a five-point home win over the 18-55 Hornets. This month has also featured losses to the 14-60 Wizards and 13-61 Pistons, as well as the franchise’s record for biggest home loss set two different times (41 points on March 5 against the Pelicans and 44 points on Wednesday against New York). As Koreen writes, the Raptors were on pace for 31 wins at the time of Barnes’ injury and they’ve been without their four most important players. Koreen opines that even though this month has been abysmal, it shouldn’t make fans doubt the Anunoby or Pascal Siakam trades, noting that the Raptors at least have a direction after three straight middling seasons.
  • RJ Barrett had his first media session on Friday following the tragic passing of his brother. “Basketball is my sanctuary, so this actually brings me peace,” Barrett said. “It helps me every day to be here, and also just be on a schedule and just be around the guys. Hanging out with your teammates… they’re funny, you get to hang out with them, you get to go practice and even support the guys when I’m not playing. Whatever it is, just being around has been helping a lot.” The Raptors organization and his teammates have tried to support Barrett and were all on hand for the funeral last week in Ontario, according to Grange.

Nuggets Notes: Caldwell-Pope, Murray, Porter, Jokic

Re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be the Nuggets‘ top priority this summer, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. Caldwell-Pope has a $15.4MM player option for next season, and there will be a “robust” market awaiting him if he decides to opt out, league sources tell Durando.

“It gets hard not to think about it,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But right now to me, it’s just trying to get to the playoffs, trying to win another championship, whether I have a player option or not. That’s the least of my worries. It’s just trying to play high-level basketball, whoever that may be with.”

The 31-year-old shooting guard was a valuable component to last season’s championship team because of his ability to match up with elite wing scorers. He’s also shooting 40.9% from three-point range since coming to Denver, providing a needed floor spacer around Nikola Jokic.

Durando notes that the Nuggets will be motivated to keep Caldwell-Pope after losing Bruce Brown in free agency last year, but there are financial ramifications to a new contract. Denver is currently within $4.7MM of the second tax apron, and a hefty salary boost for KCP would likely subject them to those provisions next season.

There’s more from Denver:

  • Jamal Murray left Thursday’s game in the final minute after appearing to hurt his leg on an awkward landing, but it doesn’t seem to be serious, Durando adds in a separate story. “Just turned his ankle a little bit,” coach Michael Malone said.
  • Michael Porter Jr. set a franchise record for most three-pointers in a season Thursday night, topping the mark of 192 formerly held by Dale Ellis, per Ryan McFadden of The Denver Post. “Even when (Porter) is not hot, it seems like he is going to make every shot,” Caldwell-Pope said. “For him to continue to shoot with that confidence is great for him and us.”
  • Jokic remains a clear favorite for MVP honors, according to Michael C. Wright of NBA.com. Jokic tightened his grip on the top spot in the MVP race by following up Tuesday’s 35-point, 16-rebound performance at Minnesota with 30 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists Thursday against New York.

Northwest Notes: Lofton, Thunder, Porter, Holiday, Billups

The Jazz used a portion of their room exception to sign Kenneth Lofton Jr. to a three-year contract that includes a $500K rest-of-season salary, Hoops Rumors has learned. Lofton’s deal is worth approximately $4.9MM in total, with minimum salaries in the second and third seasons.

However, the agreement doesn’t currently include any guaranteed money beyond this season. If Lofton remains under contract through July 25, he’d be assured of a $400K partial guarantee for 2024/25, and that partial guarantee would increase to $600K on the first day of the regular season, but if he’s waived on or before July 25, the Jazz won’t be on the hook for any ’24/25 salary.

If Lofton plays out the first two years of the contract, the Jazz would face a team option decision for the 2025/26 season.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The fact that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a legitimate MVP candidate while Chet Holmgren is in the running for Rookie of the Year is emblematic of how unique the young, contending Thunder are, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic, who notes that an NBA club hasn’t had a top-two finish in both MVP and Rookie of the Year voting since the 2001/02 Nets. Before that, the last time it happened was in 1979/80, when Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP while Magic Johnson finished second in ROY voting.
  • Monday’s game between the Nuggets and Raptors marked the first time that brothers Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter shared an NBA court for meaningful minutes, writes Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette. In honor of the occasion, Benedetto looks back at the role that Michael played in convincing Jontay not to give up on his NBA dream despite recurring injury issues.
  • Jrue Holiday was only a member of the Trail Blazers for a few days last fall between stints in Milwaukee and Boston, but he tells Jay King of The Athletic that a discussion he had with Chauncey Billups during that time “meant a lot” to him. Billups gave Holiday advice on how to handle the transition period and assured the veteran guard that the team wanted him to end up in a favorable landing spot.“I love Jrue, man. I love Jrue,” Billups said. “And we got him very briefly obviously. And I had a conversation — a long, good conversation with him — just about I know it was a little tough spot for him, being traded, kind of being blindsided by that. I’ve been there before. So just being able to rap with him like that because I know him. And it was important for me that a good person like him, who’s been great on every team and every community that he’s lived in, for him to be treated properly and be put in a great position and a great spot.”

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Brown, Jazz, Leonard

Nuggets coach Michael Malone marvels at what Michael Porter Jr. can do athletically after three back surgeries. Porter wears a brace on his left leg due to those back injuries.

“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Malone told Bennett Durando of the Denver Post. “What he’s doing has never been done before, from a medical standpoint. If you’re really gonna understand and look at what he’s doing, from a medical standpoint, the brace he wears every night and for him to go out and do what he’s doing — if you just take a step back, it’s just incredible.”

Porter is averaging 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and hasn’t missed a game this season.

“I’ve gotta remind myself of that,” Malone said. “Because no one else has done what he’s doing, and I really admire that.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets couldn’t afford to keep Bruce Brown, who played a sixth man role in last season’s championship run. Brown left for a lucrative deal with the Pacers and Denver misses him, Sean Keeler of The Denver Post writes. Denver’s fast break hasn’t been the same without Brown and the team also misses his defensive intensity and swagger.
  • The Jazz’s recent hot streak has pushed them over the .500 mark. Coach Will Hardy said that surge has set the team up for a meaningful second half of the season. “I would describe the first 41 games as a success because of what we have a chance to do going forward,” Hardy told The Athletic’s Tony Jones. “It’s not the record that I’m happy with. I’m happy with how we got here. I think the team has shown grit and character. Because of that, I think this team has developed a lot of confidence. When we’re going through game preparations, the players walk away knowing if they do certain things they can win the game that night. That’s a big step in the right direction for us.”
  • Clippers star Kawhi Leonard noticed how well the Timberwolves are connected on defense, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic relays. The Timberwolves collected a four-point win over the Clippers on Sunday. “They’re very long,” Leonard said. “They help each other out. They want you to shoot shots outside the paint. It’s not a team where you make one pass and you’re able to score on them. You gotta move it around a little bit, try to get some open looks and share it.”

Northwest Notes: MPJ, Nuggets, Watson, Thunder, Reath

After scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting in his first 16 minutes of action on Friday to help the Nuggets build an 18-point lead, Michael Porter Jr. attempted just three more field goals in his final 15 minutes as Denver’s lead slipped away and Orlando pulled out a 122-120 victory.

Asked after the game about his recent trend of disappearing from the Nuggets’ offense after getting off to hot starts, Porter suggested it’s an issue that affects the team more broadly rather than applying specifically to him, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post.

“I think it’s something we’re collectively still trying to master. Like, continuing to find guys’ shots throughout the midst of the game,” Porter said. “Because sometimes we play different in the first quarter than we do in the fourth quarter. … And that’s a lot of teams. But Aaron (Gordon) for example: He got most of his shots probably in the first quarter. Didn’t really touch the ball in the third quarter or the fourth quarter much.

“.. It’s a tough balance. When you’ve got a lot of guys who are very capable, sometimes you go a long stretch without really touching the ball. So for me, I kind of realize if I’m gonna get some shot attempts up, it’s gonna have to come in the flow of the game, and I’m gonna have to really, at times, be aggressive and things like that.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Heading into Friday’s game, the Nuggets had the NBA’s eighth-best defensive rating, compared to the No. 25 ranking at the same time a year ago. In another story for The Denver Post, Durando explores why the team has been significantly better on that end of the court in the first half of this season, singling out second-year wing Peyton Watson as a key difference-maker. Watson wasn’t part of the rotation last season, but his 109.6 defensive rating this season is the best mark among Denver’s regulars.
  • Even without making any moves on the trade market, the Thunder – who rank fourth in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating – already look like a legitimate contender, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman, who argues that the club certainly has the assets to make a deal but should be in no rush to do so before the “missing ingredient” on the roster becomes more apparent.
  • The Trail Blazers, who now have two openings on their 15-man roster, are a virtual lock to promote big man Duop Reath from his two-way deal to a standard contract sooner or later, tweets Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report. However, it’s unclear whether that move is in Portland’s short-term plans or if it will happen sometime after the trade deadline. The Blazers will have to make at least one roster addition by January 20, but that could just be a 10-day signing.

Raptors Notes: J. Porter, Quickley, Barrett, Dick, Trent

The trade that sent Precious Achiuwa to New York along with OG Anunoby and Malachi Flynn has left the Raptors somewhat thin in the frontcourt behind Jakob Poeltl, observes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. As a result, two-way big man Jontay Porter got a chance to play in Wednesday’s victory over Memphis, appearing in an NBA game for the first time since May of 2021.

While Porter missed both of his field goal attempts and had a pair of fouls in his seven minutes of action, he also grabbed three rebounds and looked “poised and smart and comfortable” on defense, writes Grange.

In an in-depth look at Porter’s journey to his current spot on the Raptors’ roster, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca notes that the former Missouri standout was considering walking away from basketball in 2022 after a series of knee injuries – including multiple ACL and MCL tears – derailed his career. But older brother Michael Porter Jr. helped convince him to stick with it and nearly two years later, Jontay is in position to potentially claim a regular role in Toronto.

“I think he’s a rotational big in this league, if not for injuries that kind of slowed down his development,” said Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic, who also coached Jontay as an assistant with the Grizzlies. “His basketball IQ is very high. He can shoot the ball. He’s a very willing passer as well. I think he’s going to be a really good fit for us — for (the Raptors) 905, but also when opportunities present itself to see him play on the big stage with us as well. I’ve got a ton of respect for him, knowing what he was going through.”

According to Murphy, Porter said he was feeling “a lot of emotions” when he took the court in an NBA game on Wednesday for the first time in nearly 32 months and that his mentality was essentially just “don’t mess up.”

“Hopefully, I get to build on this, but if not, regardless, I’ll take what I learned here and go back to 905 and do my thing there,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, I’m blessed to be in Toronto, and that’s the bottom line.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • New starting point guard Immanuel Quickley continued to impress in his second game as a Raptor, scoring a team-high 26 points in the victory over the Grizzlies. Quickley said after the game that a message from Rajakovic after he missed his first four shots helped kick-start his big night, as Aaron Rose of SI.com relays. “He pulled me aside while the game was going on and said, ‘You’re not having fun. Have fun,'” Quickley said.I’ve never really had a coach do that. He told me that. Then I started skipping.”
  • Veteran guard Cory Joseph, one of seven Canadians who had played for the Raptors prior to this season, tells Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca that he believes RJ Barrett will “flourish” as the eighth member of that group. “He’s going to have some of the best years of his life coming up,” Joseph said. “They were for me. It’s what you dream of as a kid, playing in your hometown.”
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic addresses a wide range of topics in his latest mailbag, including why team president Masai Ujiri‘s job remains very safe despite some roster missteps in recent years and whether it’s too early to be concerned about lottery pick Gradey Dick.
  • Raptors wing Gary Trent Jr. hasn’t missed a game since November 15, but he’s been added to the injury report for Friday’s game in Sacramento due to a left quad contusion, tweets Lewenberg. Trent is listed as questionable to play.

Nuggets Notes: Gordon, Holiday, Jackson, KCP

Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon may not be out of action long after being bitten by a dog on Christmas Day, writes Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Gordon will remain away from the team while he recovers, and Wind gets the feeling that he could be back within a couple of weeks.

The incident, which left Gordon with lacerations on his face and his right shooting hand, occurred after Monday’s game. Gordon’s teammates were informed of his condition at today’s practice.

“Right now it’s open-ended. We’re not going to put any pressure on him,” coach Michael Malone said of a potential timetable. “We need him to heal inside and out. Going through something like that is not something you come back from easily. That’s something where you have to heal from the physical, but you also have to heal from the mental and what you just went through. We want him back. We know we’re better off with him. But I want to support Aaron Gordon and make sure when he comes back, he’s ready to come back and play at the level he’s capable of.”

Gordon has appeared in 28 of Denver’s first 32 games and is averaging 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. He played an integral role on last season’s championship team and has helped the Nuggets rise to second in the Western Conference standings with a five-game winning streak.

“I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the league,” Malone said. “We have his back. We love him and we’re here for him. Whenever he’s able to come back, we’re going to open our arms up and embrace him.”

There’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Malone didn’t announce how his starting lineup will be affected by Gordon’s absence, but Wind speculates Michael Porter Jr. will shift to power forward and Justin Holiday will be used as a starter. Denver has gone 4-0 with that lineup in the games that Gordon has missed.
  • Reggie Jackson briefly left Monday’s game, but he’s not listed on the injury report for Thursday, tweets Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette. “I fully expect him to be able to go tomorrow,” Malone said. “He was dealing with a slight injury, but it’s nothing serious.”
  • Malone was impressed by the defensive performance Kentavious Caldwell-Pope turned in against Golden State, Wind adds in a separate story. As the primary defender on Stephen Curry, Caldwell-Pope helped hold him to 18 points on a 7-of-21 shooting night. “If that guy is not considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, I don’t know who is,” Malone said. “I just have to say that because I don’t think KCP gets the respect that he deserves, to be honest.”

Western Notes: MPJ, Alexander-Walker, Wemby, Morant, A. Holiday

With Aaron Gordon unavailable for the Nuggets‘ past three games due to a right heel injury, Michael Porter Jr. has seen more action at power forward and said the transition has been a smooth one, per Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette (Twitter links).

“It’s easier for me, I think, at the four. It’s more of a matchup for me,” Porter explained. “Those bigger guys guarding me, they don’t want to chase around screens. They don’t want to close out all the way. I can get by them easier. So, it’s fun playing the four. It’s fine playing the three, too, but it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment, because our offense is very fluid.”

Porter scored a season-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting in Denver’s victory over Houston on Wednesday. It remains to be seen which position he’ll spend the most time at on Friday, as Gordon is listed as questionable for the Nuggets’ contest in Phoenix.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn’t have much of a role for the rebuilding Jazz last season, but after a trade to Minnesota, he’s playing key minutes for a contending Timberwolves team, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Alexander-Walker had his best game of the season in a win over his former team on Thursday, racking up 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and five steals in 36 minutes.
  • Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama has been on a tear lately, averaging 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 2.5 steals per night in his past four games. However, all four of those games were losses. The Spurs know they need more production out of other players on the roster to help the young phenom, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).
  • Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has been subpoenaed to testify next month in an ongoing civil case related to an incident that occurred during a pickup game at his house during the summer of 2022. Lucas Finton of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the details.
  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Rockets guard Aaron Holiday discussed a handful of topics, including his new role as a locker room leader, his early impressions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks as teammates, Alperen Sengun‘s development, and whether he and brothers Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday have talked about playing on the same team. “Yeah, but everything has to work out perfectly for that to happen,” Aaron said of his teaming up with his brothers. “It would be tough for that to happen, but obviously we’re all for it.”