Peyton Watson

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Gordon, Watson, Holiday

Nikola Jokic was awarded the Michael Jordan trophy as this season’s Most Valuable Player prior to the tip-off of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday. Then the Nuggets star went and showed why he won the award for a third time, dismantling the Timberwolves and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with 40 points and 13 assists in a victory that gave Denver a 3-2 edge in the series.

As Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes, Jokic made 15-of-22 shots from the floor, including 8-of-9 when Gobert was his primary defender, en route to a performance that teammate Aaron Gordon referred to as “incredible,” “astounding,” and “ridiculous.” Even Jokic’s opponents couldn’t help but be in awe of the way the big man played on Tuesday.

“I just laugh,” Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards said. “That’s all I can do. I can’t be mad, because he’s good, man. I think I said that after Game 1, when we won, and Game 2. He’s the MVP. He’s the best player in the NBA; he showed it the last three games, three games in a row. .. He was special tonight. I got to give him his flowers. I don’t know what we were supposed to do.”

Head coach Michael Malone, who lauded Jokic for his basketball smarts and said he “probably belongs to Mensa,” pointed out that the timing of the superstar center receiving his latest Most Valuable Player trophy was more appropriate than the timing of the initial MVP announcement.

“Nikola was named MVP after that (106-80) Game 2 loss,” Malone said. “And I think the last three games he has shown everybody why he is arguably one of the best players to play this game.”

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Gordon, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Game 5 win, has been a crucial X-factor for Denver in the series, writes Ryan McFadden of The Denver Post (subscription required). In an in-depth feature published prior to Tuesday’s contest, Rob Mahoney of The Ringer explored how Gordon has “found his basketball destiny” with the Nuggets, adding a component to the roster that helped the team reach its ceiling.
  • In an entertaining story for The Athletic, Sam Amick details how Gordon has been left out of recent team dinners since he was the only Nuggets player who didn’t make it to last Thursday’s dinner in Minneapolis before the Nuggets won their first game of the series following two straight losses. Denver hasn’t want to risk messing with what’s working by changing its routine since then. Reggie Jackson said that dinner ahead of Game 3 helped the team stop being so tense: “We needed to be around each other. We knew what we had to do, and we knew we had something to accomplish. But it was time between the games to breathe and relax and talk about life. That really helped.”
  • In the first round of the playoffs, Peyton Watson averaged 12.0 minutes per game off the bench, while veteran Justin Holiday played just 7.1 MPG. In the second round, Holiday has seen his minutes jump to 18.3 per contest while Watson has essentially fallen out of the rotation. Bennett Durando of The Denver Post explores the thinking behind the rotation tweak, explaining that the Nuggets are prioritizing Holiday’s offense over Watson’s defense. “Just trying to find a lineup that can give us the best chance to have success,” Malone said last week. “With the way (the Timberwolves) guard and how effective they are defensively, sometimes you have to put your best offensive lineup out there to give yourself a chance to score and stay in the game.”
  • Now that the Nuggets have regained the upper hand in their series vs. Minnesota and are just one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals, Dan Wolken of USA Today argues that Denver is the clear favorite to win its second consecutive championship.

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.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Nnaji, Playoff Rotation, Spurs

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray missed his seventh consecutive game in Thursday’s two-point loss to the Clippers, but head coach Michael Malone said his team’s second-best player is “getting closer and closer,” to a return, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN (Twitter link).

Murray is officially questionable for Saturday’s contest vs. Atlanta due to right knee inflammation, tweets Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette.

Here are a few more notes on the defending champs:

  • While he didn’t get any playing time, big man Zeke Nnaji was active on Thursday for the first time since March 17. He has been dealing with a right adductor injury the past few weeks. The 23-year-old isn’t on the injury report ahead of Saturday’s game.
  • In addition to Christian Braun and Reggie Jackson, Malone mentioned Peyton Watson and Nnaji as players who might crack the playoff rotation, though he suggested others could get a look depending on the matchup, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. “A lot of it’s gonna come down to who we’re playing, to be honest,” Malone said. “If we’re playing a team that’s really big, I’ll probably have to play a bigger lineup and some other guys. Obviously, trying to get Zeke Nnaji back healthy. He’s been out for a little while now. We know that we can go with Aaron (Gordon) as our backup five. … But there’s a lot of guys that we can throw into games. And obviously, Christian, Reggie, Peyton, Zeke, D.J. (DeAndre Jordan) — whoever the game calls upon, those guys will all be ready. I have no doubt about that.”
  • It’s a tall order, to be sure, but general manager Calvin Booth says the Nuggets hope to emulate the Spurs‘ dynasty in the years to come, per Troy Renck of The Denver Post. Led by Tim Duncan, San Antonio won four championships from 1999-2007, and a fifth title in 2014. “It is of utmost importance and something I believe in a lot. As a front office, we understand the importance of studying historical patterns and what things have worked,” Booth explained. “The Spurs are the standard.”

Nuggets Notes: Winning Streak, KCP, Key, Top Seed, Lakers

The Nuggets have won six straight, reminding the league that the championship still runs through Denver, The Athletic’s Tony Jones writes.

The development of Peyton Watson and Christian Braun has supplemented Denver’s starting five after the Nuggets lost some key reserves during the offseason.

Denver put away the Lakers 124-114 on Saturday night with Nikola Jokic recording 35 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” coach Michael Malone said. “We know that we have to play well, especially at this time of the year. We lost three in a row going into the break, and I’m just impressed at our mindset coming into the second half of the season. We got up for Washington. We got up for Portland and Golden State and so on. We’re playing the right way this time of year, and our guys are locked in, regardless of the opponent.”

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two-way player Braxton Key were both away from the team Saturday due to personal reasons, according to Bennett Durando of the Denver Post.  Both players are expected to return before the team’s next game on Tuesday against the Suns.
  • Caldwell-Pope told Durando that Nuggets want to be the No. 1 seed, but as Durando writes, that may not be a great spot come playoff time. Jokic notes they could draw a traditional powerhouse in the first round. “Nobody wants the Lakers in the first round or Golden State in the first round,” Jokic said.
  • The Nuggets have faced the Lakers during some special nights this season, Durando tweets. They beat the Lakers on opening night in a rematch of the Western Conference finals. They also matched up the night Kobe Bryant‘s statue was unveiled and, on Saturday, when LeBron James scored his 40,000th career point. “It’s weird,” Jamal Murray said. “Every time there’s some night in L.A., we’ve gotta play them, you know? Like, first game of the season, revenge game? We play them. Mamba Night? We play them. LeBron night? We play them. It’s like, man, give them somebody else.”

Northwest Notes: Porter, Hayward, Biyombo, Billups, Nuggets

The Jazz have allowed Otto Porter to return home to contemplate where he wants to finish the season, sources tell Tony Jones of The Athletic. The team is willing to negotiate a buyout with Porter, Jones adds, but it will have to be completed by March 1 to make him eligible for the playoffs with another organization.

Porter hasn’t played since being acquired from Toronto two weeks ago, even though Jones’ sources say he is completely healthy. Utah is committed to giving more minutes to rookie forward Taylor Hendricks, according to Jones, which is why the front office is open to a buyout.

Jones notes that Porter was in uniform last Thursday for the final game before the All-Star break, even though he wasn’t used. He only played 15 games for the Raptors this season before the deal, but Jones points out that Porter had an important role in Golden State’s 2022 championship and could draw attention from several contenders if he hits the open market.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Gordon Hayward expects to be ready to make his Thunder debut when the season resumes Thursday night, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. The veteran forward, who hasn’t played since December 26 because of a calf injury, appreciated having extra time to prepare after Oklahoma City acquired him from Charlotte at the trade deadline. “The nice thing about when I got traded was I’ve had another week and a half, because of the break, to continue to get work in,” Hayward said. “I was here for most of the break.” 
  • Coach Mark Daigneault sees newly signed center Bismack Biyombo as a “situational player” for the Thunder, per Rylan Stiles of Locked on Thunder. “That was something we were honest about upfront [with Biyombo],” Daigneault said. “… He is a great professional, very serious competitor, and I think he will help the environment in that way.” 
  • Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups had his arm in a sling at Wednesday’s practice after undergoing surgery this week to fix a long-standing problem with his right wrist, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The issue involves a ligament tear that Billups suffered as a player in 2009.
  • Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports looks at three issues that will define the closing part of the Nuggets‘ season: how hard they’ll pursue the No. 1 seed, whether coach Michael Malone will consider expanding his rotation, and how effective Christian Braun and Peyton Watson can continue to be.

Western Notes: Kuminga, Lakers, Wolves, Watson

At 20-24, the No. 12 seed in the West, the Warriors certainly aren’t where they hoped to be in the standings at this point in the 2023/24 season. However, one bright spot of late has been the play of third-year forward Jonathan Kuminga, says Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

As Slater writes, Kuminga has been highly efficient attacking the paint over the past seven games, scoring 20-plus each game in averaging 25.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 61.9% from the field (32.0 minutes). Star guard Stephen Curry thinks Kuminga is turning a corner in his development.

(He has) clarity on how he can impact the game,” Curry said. “Defensive intensity, pressure, taking what the defense gives him on the offensive end. Whether it’s attacking driving lanes, finishing at the rim, getting transition buckets for us, and knocking down open shots. There’s just an element of aggressiveness. You don’t want him out there second-guessing anything.”

Playing Kuminga more and letting him learn from mistakes shows the team finally realized it needed to shake things up, especially on offense, according to Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, who notes that Andrew Wiggins has played well lately too with Draymond Green starting at center.

Kuminga’s prominent role is in stark contrast to the uneven minutes he received earlier this season, with a report just a few weeks ago suggesting the 21-year-old was losing faith in head coach Steve Kerr. However, Slater recently said Kuminga has felt better about his situation since he met with Kerr in the wake of that report.

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Christian Wood sent out a tweet saying “lol” shortly before the Lakers announced their starting lineup on Tuesday featured Jaxson Hayes starting at center with Anthony Davis sidelined, but he said after the game it wasn’t related to basketball, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “I meant to quote (tweet) something,” Wood said. “I thought I did and I just pressed send, and I couldn’t check my phone before because we have to go out (to the court), but it was an accident. … I looked at it just now. … It came off a certain type of way. I didn’t mean it that way.” After the loss to Atlanta, LeBron James also sent out a cryptic hourglass emoji, Buha adds. The trade deadline is next Thursday, and the Lakers are currently 24-25.
  • The Timberwolves have only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once in franchise history. How will they handle the pressure of being considered a title contender? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explores that topic, writing that Karl-Anthony Towns‘ willingness to adjust his game has paid dividends thus far in 2023/24. “The winning helps. It’s good when you’re able to sacrifice to see the result you wanted and share the success,” Towns said. “We’re all making this happen. This is not just a singular effort. This is a team coming together and saying ‘We really want to do something special.’
  • Already an impressive defender in year two, Nuggets forward Peyton Watson says he’s looking to expand his game on the other end of the court, according to Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Watson has been taking far more mid-range shots lately, an area he’s comfortable in. “Coming in as a young player and trying to make a name for yourself and get a spot in the rotation, you’re not just coming in shooting of the dribble jumpers,” Watson told DNVR. “That’s not analytically the best shot, especially if you’re someone just coming in and trying to create his role. Now that I’ve created my role and people know what I’m going to do on the defensive end, it’s just been more about me expanding my game offensively, seeing what works, trial and error, and getting ready for when it counts in the playoffs.”

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.

Western Notes: Watson, Lakers, Nance, Rose

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone made a late decision to start Peyton Watson in place of injured forward Aaron Gordon on Thursday and the second-year wing responded in a major way, scoring a career-high 20 points and making four three-pointers as Memphis gave him room on the perimeter, as Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post details.

“They didn’t guard him early but he stayed with it and he didn’t lose confidence,” Malone said. “That can mess with you, but I thought Peyton did a really good job. I think he knows we have faith and confidence in him, and let’s be honest, Peyton Watson knows he’s a huge part of our future.”

Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (Twitter link) referred to it as a “statement decision” by Malone to insert Watson into the starting five over Justin Holiday, who had started the previous four games that Gordon missed.

Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link) adds that the club had planned to approach that spot in the lineup on a game-by-game basis until Gordon gets healthy, but suggests Watson may have earned the role going forward with his performance on Thursday.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • After linking Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale to the Lakers in the offseason, Jovan Buha of The Athletic said this week in an episode of Hoops Tonight (YouTube link) that Los Angeles still has trade interest in the two Nets forwards. NetsDaily passes along Buha’s comments and explores whether a deal between the two teams is realistic.
  • Ankle, groin, and rib injuries sapped Larry Nance Jr. of much of his athleticism earlier in the season, but the Pelicans big man is now feeling as good as he has “in years,” he tells Christian Clark of Nance, who played on Thursday for the first time since November 27, pointed to a dunk over Walker Kessler as an example of the type of play he wasn’t making a month or two ago. “It just felt good to get back to who I am,” Nance said. “Earlier in the season, I would have got that drop-off and tried to throw up some B.S. hook or some floater. I can make it. But that’s not who I am. That’s not what this team needs from me.”
  • Grizzlies guard Derrick Rose is loving being back in Memphis after spending a single college season with the Memphis Tigers 16 years ago, writes Damichael Cole of The Commercial Appeal. Rose and his family had never bought a home in any of the cities he previously played in, but they did so in Memphis this year, with the 35-year-old hoping to stick around for the foreseeable future. “When I did leave (after college), I always wished that I stayed a little bit longer,” Rose said. “That’s crazy, like all the times we’ve had chances to purchase spots and our first purchase was in Memphis.”

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Officiating, Second Unit, KCP

While Bozidar Maljkovic — the president of Serbia’s Olympic committee — previously stated that Nuggets star Nikola Jokic would represent his home country at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, the reigning Finals MVP recently said he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll participate, as relays.

It’s far. Some people put words in my mouth that I said something that I didn’t. The head coach is the first to know [my commitment]. I always talk to the family and the team after the season,” Jokic told Aleksandar Zigic of RTS.

After Denver’s lengthy playoff run ended in its first championship, Jokic decided to sit out the World Cup over the summer. Despite missing the best player on the team, the Serbians took home the silver medal behind strong performances from Bogdan Bogdanovic and other teammates.

Here are a few more notes on the defending champions:

  • Jokic has been ejected from two games over the past month for arguing with officials about foul non-calls. The second incident occurred on Tuesday in Chicago, with Jokic immediately kicked out despite not having any technical fouls leading up to that point. When asked about how Jokic is officiated, head coach Michael Malone said he’s discussed it with the NBA, according to Ryan Blackburn of Mile High Sports (Twitter link). I’ve been contacting the league and having conversations about certain plays, certain games where we don’t think he’s getting the whistle he deserves,” Malone said as a part of a larger quote.
  • The team’s bench is trending in a positive direction after some up-and-down play to open 2023/24, writes Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Second-year players Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, plus rookie Julian Strawther, “have become the backbone” of Denver’s second unit, according to Wind, who takes a closer look at the play of Braun and Watson in particular.
  • Starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sat out Thursday’s victory over Brooklyn after being placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol and will be sidelined for Saturday’s contest against Oklahoma City as well, per Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette (Twitter links). Caldwell-Pope is shooting 40.4% from three-point range and is frequently tasked with defending the opponent’s top perimeter scorer. He’s making $14.7MM this season and holds a $15.4MM player option for ’24/25.

Northwest Notes: Watson, Edwards, Milton, Jazz

A rotation player this season after logging limited minutes as a rookie, second-year Nuggets guard Peyton Watson has Deion Sanders’ portrait in his locker to remind of the type of defender he wants to be, writes Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette. Watson, who has earned praise from teammates Nikola Jokic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his defensive play and his energy, explained his thinking.

“I just thought it was the most admirable thing that teams would literally throw away from his side (first) through (third) downs. Then, on fourth down, (they) punt out of bounds so he couldn’t return it. Like, you can’t even let this guy get involved in the game,” Watson said. “I admire the mentality and how he approached the game.”

While minutes have fluctuated this fall for some of the Nuggets’ reserves, Watson has remained a part of head coach Michael Malone‘s regular second unit, averaging more than 21 minutes per night in his past six games.

“He can guard bigs. He can guard smalls. I like how he’s playing right now,” Malone said. “He’s helping impact the game in a positive manner right now, and it’s great to see for a young player, taking advantage of the opportunities that’s being given to him.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, who recently missed two games with a hip pointer and appeared to be favoring that hip in his return on Wednesday, exited Friday’s game after just three minutes (Twitter link). He’s undergoing further examination on Saturday and it remains unclear whether he’ll miss any additional time, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.
  • The Shake Milton that scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in Friday’s win over Memphis was the player the Timberwolves thought they were getting when they signed him in free agency this summer, according to Krawczynski, who suggests Minnesota will become an even more dangerous team if the guard’s Friday performance wasn’t a one-off. Head coach Chris Finch has been pushing the struggling Milton to be more confident and assertive, which was reflected in his play in Memphis, Krawczynski adds.
  • While Salt Lake City officials are working hard to keep the Jazz in the downtown area, the franchise has explored the possibility of building a new arena outside the city, including perhaps at the south end of Salt Lake County, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (subscription required). Larsen takes a deep dive into the story, examining the factors at play and clarifying that the team won’t be moving out of the Delta Center anytime soon.