Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Wolves Notes: Conley, Confidence, Maturity, Jokic, Gobert, NAW

Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley was ruled out for Tuesday’s Game 5 with a right soleus strain and is officially questionable for tonight’s Game 6. However, the 36-year-old plans to suit up, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (via Twitter).

After Game 5, head coach Chris Finch said the team was optimistic Conley could return for Game 6, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “We’re hopeful Mike can go in Game 6,” Finch said. “That was one of the reasons to be cautious with him right here, feeling that he could go [on Thursday].”

Conley’s leadership and steady hand in the backcourt have buoyed Minnesota throughout the team’s 56-win season, writes Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. The 36-year-old also understands his window of opportunity is shrinking, and the same may be true of the Wolves in the series.

I’m one of those people, I don’t want to learn through losing,” Conley said. “I don’t want to learn by letting a team win a couple games in a series to make us change some things. Why don’t we, in games, figure this out? We’re good enough to do this. I don’t have time for it, y’all don’t have time for it.”

Conley, who signed a two-year extension during the season, played 76 regular season games in ’23/24 and is the team’s top on-ball decision-maker.

Here’s more on the Wolves:

  • Despite dropping three straight games for the first time all season, the Timberwolves remain confident as they look to stave off elimination against Denver in Thursday’s Game 6, according to McMenamin of ESPN. “Adversity has been something we’ve answered all year,” All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “It’s something that if I was to go through this with anyone, I would go through it with these guys in this locker room. I have full confidence in these guys, I have full confidence in our locker room, I have confidence in our coaching staff. Everyone has been tremendous all year. It’s now time to put all that experience and that unity we’ve built throughout the whole year, even last year, and put it on the table and play our best basketball so we can give ourselves a chance to bring back Game 7 here.”
  • Star guard Anthony Edwards struggled with Denver’s extra defensive pressure in Game 5, but he said he’s looking forward to making up for it tonight in Minnesota, McMenamin adds. “Super excited,” Edwards said. “You get to compete. Get to go home and play with our backs against the wall. It should be fun.” If he’s healthy, Conley’s return should alleviate some double-team pressure from Edwards.
  • Despite their public proclamations of confidence, the Wolves haven’t dealt with adversity well the past few games, particularly from an emotional maturity standpoint, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune (subscriber link). Several players have been guilty of immature moments, which has been an issue for this group the past couple seasons, Hine adds. “I mean, we got to keep our head. I think that’s the story for us,” Rudy Gobert said. “… We have to be mentally tough, individually and collectively, to be able to keep playing our game and not let anything that happened in the game affect the way we play.”
  • Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic details how three-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who is also the reigning Finals MVP for the defending-champion Nuggets, was able to eviscerate four-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert and Minnesota’s top-ranked defense in Game 5. The Serbian superstar was particularly lethal in the third period, recording 16 points on just seven shot attempts and recording four assists, frequently while intentionally hunting Gobert. John Hollinger of The Athletic contends that Jokic’s remarkable performance — 40 points on 15-of-22 shooting, 13 assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block with zero turnovers — isn’t being discussed enough.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker has become an unlikely X-factor for the Wolves, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN. The former first-round pick was traded three times in quick succession but has turned into a defensive stopper and a leader for Minnesota, Lopez notes.
  • Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune argues that if the Wolves are eliminated by the Nuggets, they shouldn’t blow up the big man pairing of Towns and Gobert. Souhan also says the team should replace Kyle Anderson with another three-point shooter to improve the offense, which has been the primary issue over the past three games.

Mike Conley Ruled Out For Game 5

Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley won’t play in Game 5 against the Nuggets tonight due to right Achilles soreness, the team’s PR department tweets. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been inserted into the lineup in Conley’s place.

Conley was injured during the final minute of Game 4. He was downgraded to questionable earlier in the day and, after testing out the ailment prior to the game, it was determined that he wasn’t healthy enough to play.

The veteran point guard has averaged 10.8 points and 7.8 assists per game during the series. Alexander-Walker is averaging 6.8 PPG off the bench against Denver but had three double-digit scoring games against Phoenix in the opening round.

Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray, who was listed as questionable due to a calf injury, will play.

Northwest Notes: Alexander-Walker, Nuggets/Wolves Series, Brogdon

Timberwolves wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker injured his shoulder in Game 3 against the Nuggets, according to The Star Tribune’s Chris Hine (Twitter link). He appeared to have trouble taking off his jersey after the game.

Right now, it hurts,” Alexander-Walker told reporters on Friday night. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow when I wake up and everything’s settled.

Initially seen as something of a throw-in in the trade that sent Mike Conley to Minnesota, Alexander-Walker has emerged as one of the most important rotation pieces for the Wolves. In his fifth NBA season, Alexander-Walker is continuing to establish himself as a reliable defender and averaged 8.0 points and 2.5 assists per game off the bench this season. We’ll have to wait for more updates to get a sense of whether or not he’ll have to miss time.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • After looking out of sorts in the first two games of the series, the Nuggets stormed back to blow out the Timberwolves on Minnesota’s home court in Game 3. According to The Athletic’s John Hollinger, poor screening and offensive pace negatively affected their defense, allowing Denver to fall into a 2-0 hole. Behind Nikola Jokic‘s 24 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, three blocks and three steals, the Nuggets have made the matchup a series once again.
  • Head coach Michael Malone tested the Nuggets‘ belief in themselves following their Game 2 blowout loss, The Athletic’s Tony Jones writes. After Monday’s blowout loss, Malone challenged his players to not run from what happened, but to confront why they lost — he also showed his team a series of video clips of NBA analysts declaring Denver’s season over. Additionally, Malone changed up the sets and the rotations, with Jokic and Jamal Murray playing nearly the entire game. Reserve wing Justin Holiday has become a key part of this series, hitting six three-pointers in his last two games. All of this culminated in the Nuggets‘ best performance this postseason.
  • The Timberwolves desperately need to find their identity again if they’re going to win the series against Denver, The Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins writes. “We didn’t want to work very hard for our offense and got a little bit lazy and we missed those shots,” coach Chris Finch said. “We did miss a lot of layups early. Generally, when you’re doing that, you’re not playing in the right mindset.Anthony Edwards said he would take the blame for the loss, but as The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski writes, there’s plenty Minnesota needs to address in the rest of the series. The Wolves allowed Jamal Murray to get hot in Game 3 and let Aaron Gordon get involved with Rudy Gobert sagging off him.
  • Trail Blazers guard Malcolm Brogdon has applied for Polish citizenship, according to BasketNews (Twitter link). The Rose Garden Report’s Sean Highkin explains that Brogdon’s wife’s father is Polish and that there’s been talk that Brogdon could play for Poland’s national team in the Olympic qualifying tournament in July (Twitter link). However, nothing is finalized at this moment.

Wolves Notes: Edwards, Phoenix Series, NAW, Defense

The Timberwolves blew out the Suns for a third straight game in the first round of the playoffs on Friday. Anthony Edwards impressed with his shot-making in Game 1; his play-making stood out in Game 2; and in Game 3, he put it all together, Chris Hine of The Star Tribune writes. Edwards had 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the 126-109 win to bring the Wolves within one win of their first playoff series win 20 years.

He’s a smart player he just has had a lot to learn and he’s learned it a lot,” head coach Chris Finch said. “He’s benefiting and we’re really benefiting.

Edwards has outplayed Phoenix star Devin Booker through three games, averaging 28.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists to Booker’s 20.3 PPG and 6.0 APG. No team has ever come back from the 3-0 deficit which Phoenix finds itself in.

We don’t think we broke their spirit until we win Game 4,” Edwards said. “We gotta win Game 4 and then we can say we broke their spirit. You never know man, a lot of crazy things happen.

For his part, Edwards said he isn’t planning on relenting any time soon.

I just want to kill everything in front of me,” Edwards said, via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps (Twitter link). “That’s the main thing, pretty much. That’s all there is to it.

We have more notes on the Wolves:

  • The Wolves have fully arrived, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic writes. After years without one, Minnesota has an identity, characterized by elite defense and stars. “I don’t care what happened beforehand,” Finch said. “The reality is that we have a bunch of guys who love playing together, play hard and play the right way. They’re young. They let me coach them hard. It’s been fun. That’s been the foundation of being able to grow this little by little. A long way to go for us, but we don’t really care what happened before because that doesn’t relate to any of us.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was widely viewed as a throw-in in the Mike Conley trade at the 2023 deadline, has come up huge in the playoffs. Alexander-Walker, making $4.3MM next season, hit four big three-pointers in the third quarter and the Wolves outscored Phoenix 32-16 in his minutes. Through three games, he’s averaging 14.7 PPG and 4.0 APG and is shooting 39.1% from deep on 7.7 attempts per contest. Finch complimented the fifth-year guard’s defense and shot-making after the game, according to James Edwards (Twitter link). Alexander-Walker said the credit goes to his teammates, Hine writes. “[Anthony Edwards] trusts me,” Alexander-Walker said. “I think the cool thing about it is none of those shots really go in tonight without the trust of my teammates. To have that feeling, it’s a really good one.
  • While they allowed 109 points in Game 3, the Wolves held Phoenix under 100 points in each of the first two games of the series. Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune analyzes seven plays that highlight Minnesota’s dominance on defense. In the regular season, the Wolves led the league in defensive rating and opposing points per game.

Wolves Notes: Edwards, Alexander-Walker, Anderson, Conley

Anthony Edwards scored 33 points in leading the Timberwolves to a convincing Game 1 victory over Phoenix, and he got to tell his basketball hero all about it, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN. After sinking a three-pointer late in the third quarter, Edwards pounded his chest as he had an animated, one-sided conversation with Kevin Durant (video link). It was a dream come true for Edwards, who grew up cheering for Durant.

“I think everybody here knows that’s my favorite player of all time, so that was probably one of the best feelings ever in my whole life,” Edwards told reporters.

The Wolves hope today’s rout sends a message about their approach to the playoffs being eliminated in five games last season. They also got some revenge for last Sunday, when they were embarrassed by the Suns and missed a chance to claim the No. 1 seed in the West.

“These guys came here and whooped us in our home court in the last game of the season and were giggling and laughing,” Edwards recalled. (Bradley) Beal, he told our coach that he doesn’t think we play hard enough — and he was right. (Chris) Finch didn’t like that. He came in the next day and was like, ‘Man, you’ve got guys on the other team telling me that y’all don’t play hard enough for me.’ And he was totally right.”

There’s more from Minnesota:

  • The Timberwolves’ edge off the bench was evident in Game 1, particularly from Nickeil Alexander-Walker, observes Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. The reserve shooting guard had a career-best playoff performance with 18 points and registered the highest plus-minus rating of anyone with a +28. His four steals also set a franchise playoff record for a bench player. He and Naz Reid shifted the momentum and helped to erase the lead the Suns held after the first quarter. “Those guys have been so big for us all year,” Finch said. “They have so much confidence no matter what role they’re playing or where we need them. We need those guys to produce, and tonight they did a great job.”
  • Kyle Anderson was declared out for the game after suffering a hip pointer in the second quarter. There’s no word on his status for Tuesday’s Game 2.
  • At age 36, Mike Conley is hoping for at least one more long playoff run before the end of his career, per Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Although Conley has played for several good teams, he hasn’t reached the conference finals since 2013. “I told the guys that, selfishly, do it for me, man,” Conley said. “Help me out. Meet me at my level right now because I don’t got long. Y’all got forever, it feels like.”

Wolves Notes: Point Guards, McLaughlin, Offense, Edwards

Point guard has become a position of strength for the Timberwolves, according to Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune, who points out that Mike Conley, Monte Morris, and Jordan McLaughlin shared the court together during Friday’s victory over Cleveland.

Known more for their star frontcourt duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, the Wolves have been forced to play smaller lately due to injuries to those big men and it has been working for the club, which also occasionally uses Nickeil Alexander-Walker in a ball-handling role.

“We’re spoiled for choice right there,” head coach Chris Finch said of his point guards. “And I love the fact they all like to play together and they can play together.”

Minnesota acquired Morris at the trade deadline in order to fortify its depth behind Conley at the point, but McLaughlin – who had shared backup duties with Alexander-Walker until that point – has made the case with his recent play that the addition of Morris was more of a luxury than a necessity.

“J-Mac is just playing otherworldly right now,” Finch said. “He has come in and changed the game for us. He’s shooting with so much confidence, making all the normal J-Mac plays, getting all the 50-50 balls, competing for the ball in the air, flying around, getting his hands on stuff.”

Here’s more out of Minnesota:

  • Chris Hine of The Star Tribune takes a look at how the Timberwolves’ offense has changed since Towns went down with his knee injury earlier this month, observing that the team has been launching more shots from beyond the arc. Minnesota ranked 25th in the NBA in three-pointers per game up until Towns’ last appearance on March 4, but has jumped to No. 12 in the games since then. “We haven’t made a conscious decision to say, ‘Hey we need to shoot more threes because KAT’s not here.’ It’s a by-product of our spacing,” Finch explained.
  • It has been a tumultuous month for the Timberwolves on the whole — Towns’ injury occurred during the first week of March and was followed by the incoming ownership group’s push to secure the necessary financing in time for its payment deadline. The organization also reportedly fired an employee for stealing thousands of confidential files. However, as Michael Rand of The Star Tribune writes, Minnesota’s players have done a good job blocking the outside noise and focusing on its performance on the court, having gone 6-3 with Towns unavailable.
  • Howard Beck of The Ringer hopes NBA pundits don’t make a habit out of comparing rising Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards to Michael Jordan – as some have recently – arguing that such comparisons have backfired repeatedly over the years and that “we should just enjoy the Ant.”

International Notes: All-Star Game, Embiid, Wembanyama, Canada

In an appearance with Gayle King and Charles Barkley on CNN (video link), Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA will consider a U.S. vs. international format to revamp the All-Star Game. It’s one of several ideas that were brought up after last month’s All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, which concluded with the East defeating the West 211-186 in a contest that was low on competitiveness and defensive effort.

Silver called it “a great weekend, but it was not a basketball game,” and said changes to the format are being studied.

“I think maybe as opposed to trying to create a super competitive basketball game, which I am not sure the teams or the players really want, we should do different things and make it a celebration of basketball,” Silver said. “… “We are going to look at U.S. vs. international. I just think maybe we are past that point where we are going to play a truly competitive game.” 

There’s more news from around the basketball world:

  • Joel Embiid opted to join Team USA in the Summer Olympics, assuming he’s healthy enough, but French basketball officials say they had serious discussions with the Sixers center before the decision was made, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Jean-Pierre Siutat, president of French basketball, and former NBA player Boris Diaw, general manager of the French men’s team, contend they had two meetings with Embiid regarding the possibility that he might play for France. “He said, yes, I want to (play), make the (passport),” Siutat said. “So I make the job, with the help of the government, to get a passport for him and for his son. And all the time, he said, ‘I want to play for the national team of France.’” Embiid disputes that version of events through a spokesman, claiming he never asked for a passport, Vardon adds.
  • Victor Wembanyama is setting the bar high as he tries to win a gold medal while playing at home in Paris, according to a Eurohoops story.  “Any other result than the first place would be a failure since we could have done better,” the Spurs rookie said. “You shouldn’t have any regrets, but it’s a very achievable goal”.
  • Canadian coach Jordi Fernandez is looking to fill out his Olympic roster around a core group consisting of Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderLuguentz DortRJ BarrettKelly OlynykNickeil Alexander-WalkerDwight Powell and Dillon Brooks, notes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Jamal Murray is expected to join them if health permits, and international star Melvin Ejim could get a spot as well. Koreen expects Canada to search around the NBA for the remainder of its 12-man roster.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Brogdon, NAW, Micic, Jokic

Bucks guard Damian Lillard expects to have a positive reception from fans when he plays in Portland on Wednesday for the first time as a visitor, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian (subscriber link). The longtime Trail Blazers star is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, spending his first 11 NBA seasons with the club.

I think it will be emotional because I care,” Lillard said. “I loved playing in Portland. I loved living there and still live there. I’m not like a big crier. I don’t think I’ll be crying, and all of that. But I care. Everything I ever said about my time in Portland playing there, I meant that s–t. So, yeah, it will be.”

Lillard requested a trade last summer when he felt like he and the Blazers were moving in different directions. The 33-year-old wanted a chance to compete for championships. Milwaukee (32-15, second in the East) and Portland (14-33, 14th in the West) are at opposite ends of the standings thus far in 2023/24.

I loved the organization. I loved everybody I went to work with every day. And I think what made it the hardest is it wasn’t a wasn’t a broken relationship. So coming back, being able to be here, I’m in a great situation,” Lillard said, per ESPN.com. “The reason it all came about in the first place was for a chance to win it all. We couldn’t be at that place at the same time. So I come back with love, and I’m excited to be back in the Moda Center.”

Here’s from the Northwest:

  • Trail Blazers guard Malcolm Brogdon has been a popular name in trade rumors ever since he was sent to Portland as part of the Jrue Holiday deal. However, he tells Jason Quick of The Athletic that he’s pleased with his situation and isn’t seeking a trade. “I’m happy here. I’m valued here. Valued in this leadership/lead-guard role,” Brogdon told The Athletic. “And I can’t complain with that. I’m happy in Portland.” The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, who also said he hasn’t spoken to GM Joe Cronin about a potential deal, added that he didn’t necessarily feel as valued by the Celtics, who traded him after a single season.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker says he was “terrified” after being traded to the Timberwolves last February, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. The 25-year-old had already been traded two times in 2022 (to Portland and Utah), and wasn’t playing a regular role with the Jazz last season. Alexander-Walker wondered how he’d be able to crack the rotation for the Wolves, but wound up becoming a key contributor after injuries to Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels down the stretch. He re-signed with Minnesota on a two-year, $9MM contract over the summer.
  • Former EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic doesn’t seem to mind his lack of playing time thus far with the Thunder, per Eurohoops.net. Micic won back-to-back EuroLeague titles (2021 and 2022) with Anadolu Efes. “From the outside for people that follow my career, maybe some things are not smooth and easygoing for me,” Micic said. “But that’s not important to me. The most important is my current feeling, and my current feeling is showing me that everything makes sense, everything was with a reason.Everything in Europe that I achieved was not given to me. I had to work for that. Nobody gave me anything there. So that’s how I learned it.” The 30-year-old NBA rookie is averaging 3.2 PPG and 2.3 APG in 11.8 MPG over 26 appearances with Oklahoma City this season.
  • Nuggets star Nikola Jokic will be sidelined for Wednesday’s contest in Oklahoma City due to lower back pain, but it’s not expected to be a long-term injury, head coach Michael Malone told reporters prior to the game (Twitter link via Bennett Durando of The Denver Post). “I wouldn’t say anything that I think is gonna be a long-term concern. … That back pain was not improving, wasn’t getting any better, so it was just determined by medical staff to try to get that back right, rehab and treatment,” Malone said.

Wolves Notes: Gobert, Towns, Reid, Alexander-Walker

Rudy Gobert‘s decision to play Saturday with an aching left hip is reflective of the Timberwolves‘ philosophy, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Players are held out when they’re injured — Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels both missed the game — but when it’s just a matter of soreness, they reject the idea of load management and find a way to get on the court.

“There’s going to be points in the season where you’ve got to play these types of games,” coach Chris Finch said. “If you’re always resting guys, then you don’t have the resiliency to go battle through that, so I think it’s important.”

Gobert played a vital role in picking up a hard-fought win at Charlotte. He made 10 of 12 shots from the field, including eight dunks, collected 12 rebounds and had three blocks, including a late one on a Miles Bridges shot that helped to seal the game.

“Just being dominant, just being aggressive,” Gobert said. “My teammates did a great job finding me early in the game, and I just tried to be a force.”

There’s more on the Wolves:

  • Chemistry between Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns was an issue last year, but it has been noticeably better this season, Krawczynski adds. Two of Gobert’s baskets Saturday night came on lob passes from Towns, and Krawczynski notes that Minnesota has a plus-24.3 net rating over its last seven games in the minutes the two big men have played together.
  • Finch brought a new wrinkle to his rotation against the Hornets, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. For part of the fourth quarter, the Wolves had reserve big man Naz Reid on the court alongside Gobert and Towns — Finch suggested that they were his best players on the night. Towns posted 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Reid shot 9-of-14 and scored 23 points. “Naz was a huge lift off the bench,” Finch said. “It broke my heart to pull him out, to be honest.”
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker seemed like a throw-in when he was acquired in the Mike Conley trade in February, but he has become an important part of the Wolves’ success, Krawczynski states in a separate story. Alexander-Walker has been moved at the last two trade deadlines, but he feels like he has found a home. “I want to credit Minnesota as an organization — and Finch — for giving me opportunities to play through mistakes,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes this season and they’ve kept me out there. So now, that confidence, being in the present is resonating.”

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.”