Cavs scrap their way to victory against Denver

After coming off a tough loss to the 76ers Wednesday night, Cleveland continued their five-game homestand Friday against the Denver Nuggets.

The Cavs got double-doubles from Lauri Markkanen, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley as they defeated the Nuggets 119-116 in OT at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Denver had an opportunity to tie the game in OT, but Bones Hyland missed a three at the buzzer, and Cleveland got the big victory.

The Cavs(40-30) are now 2-1 on their homestand.

Here’s the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ win.

The Great for the Cavaliers:

Lauri, Lauri, Lauri! Markkanen was big-time Friday night. He had a season-high 31 points(11/16 FG), including six threes, 10 rebounds, and a career-high four steals. With the game tied at 114 in OT, Markkanen made the go-ahead three with 28.3 seconds left. Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the team does not defeat Denver without Markkanen. He went toe-to-toe with Nikola Jokic and got the job done.

-Evan Mobley is going to be something. Mobley scored nine of the team’s 12 points in OT, and he finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks. Additionally, he had a big layup plus the foul to put Cleveland up three late in OT, which helped the Cavs hold on to the lead.

The rookie continues to play well at the center spot for the injured Jarrett Allen. Since he became the starter at center, Mobley is averaging 21.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest.

-Of course, Darius Garland had his fingerprints on this victory. The All-Star had 25 points, four rebounds, and 14 assists. This was Garland’s six double-double in eight games. Garland had the biggest offensive rebound of the game in OT, which set up Markkanen’s three that gave the Cavs the lead for good.

-Kevin Love battled Friday night. He scored nine of his 12 points(4/9 3PT FG) and grabbed five of his nine rebounds in the fourth quarter. Love worked tirelessly to keep Jokic off the glass and, along the way, made some big shots. For his efforts, Love earned “The Junkyard Dog Award” for his work on defense and on the boards.

Fourth Quarter: The Cavaliers trailed by 11(63-52) at halftime and by nine(87-78) going into the fourth. Denver matched their largest lead of the game of 14 in the final quarter, and with the Cavs trailing by 12 with just over eight minutes to go in regulation; Cleveland went on 20-6 run to take their first lead since early in the second quarter. The Cavs shot 53% from the floor, including 63% from deep in the fourth, and limited the Nuggets to 1/8 from three=point range. Cleveland would outscore Denver 29-20 in the quarter to get the game to OT.

Overtime: See Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, and Darius Garland above. Cleveland outscored the Nuggets 12-9 in OT.

The Not So Great for the Cavaliers:

-We can point to their poor second quarter, where they were outscored 34-21, but not today. This win is too good to be negative.

Bottom Line:

This was a gut-check for the Cavs, and they battled and fought their way to victory. This team showed heart, grit, and to steal a word from Bickerstaff, scrap, to defeat the Nuggets. There is  little margin for error for the Cavs, and based on how they fought back against Denver, this team knows that.

As for the standings, Cleveland now has sole possession of the sixth spot in the East after the Raptors(39-31) fell to the Lakers at home in OT. The Cavs essentially have a two-game lead  because they have taken the season-series over the Raptors(3-0).

The two teams play one more time next week.

What’s Next:

Cleveland hosts the Detroit Pistons Saturday night.

Best of the Rest:

-Jokic led Denver with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Aaron Gordon added 20 points, and Hyland had 17 points off the bench. The Nuggets had six players in double figures.

-For the second straight game, Cedi Osman was a DNP-CD. After their loss to Philly, Bickerstaff said the team wanted to give Dylan Windler minutes, which means Osman sits for now. We’ll probably see Osman again at some point.

Hardaway Jr. on Porzingis: ‘When he is engaged like that, we can be a dangerous team’

The Dallas Mavericks(9-4) have now won two straight and five of their last six after defeating the Denver Nuggets(9-5) 111-101 at American Airlines Center on Monday.

The last time these two teams faced off was a few weeks ago in Denver, where the Nuggets routed Dallas 106-75. 

Dallas got revenge on Monday night! After trailing most of the second half, Dallas went on a 19-5 run to start the fourth to take control of the game.

Here is the Great, Not so Great, and the Bottom Line of Dallas’ win over Denver.

The Great for the Dallas Mavericks:

-Kristaps Porzingis has been great after missing five games with a back injury. On Monday, he finished with 29 points (5-8 3FG), 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. In the last five games, Porzingis is averaging 23.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

“KP was great again on both sides of the ball,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “We asked him to not just score for us, but we also asked him to play defense on the MVP (Nikola Jokić) tonight — and he did his best. When you look at KP at the 5, we don’t want to have him out there for 40 minutes at the 5. I think for the journey of this season, that’s just too many minutes at the 5. For us to get him at the 5, tonight was good, and we’ll continue to get him at the 5.”

The Mavericks improved to 13-5 all-time when Porzingis goes for 25-plus points and 10-plus boards. 

-Luka Doncic finished with 23 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds. Doncic has now recorded at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in each of his last six games. It is now the longest streak of 20-5-5 across the NBA this season. Tonight was his seventh double-double of the season and his fourth game with 10-plus assists.

Doncic did leave late in the game with a lower leg injury, and according to the team, will be out Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns with left knee and left ankle sprains.

-Tim Hardaway Jr. had 19 points for Dallas tonight, which included 13 points down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Hardaway Jr. added a season-high seven rebounds and a season-high-tying four assists for the Mavs. The Mavericks are now 6-2 when Hardaway Jr. goes for 15-plus points.

-Jalen Brunson had 17 points and six assists off the bench for the Mavericks. This is Brunson’s seventh consecutive game, scoring in double figures, and he is averaging 18.9 points per game on 57.5% shooting from the field in that stretch. The Mavericks bench outscored Denver 27-16 tonight. Dallas improved to 6-0 when the bench unit outscores the opponent’s bench unit.

Fourth Quarter: Dallas outscored the Nuggets 32-16 in the fourth quarter, led by Hardaway Jr.’s 13 points. The Mavericks were sizzling in the fourth as they shot 59% from the floor. In addition, they held the Nuggets to 32% from the field, including 1/8 from downtown. Dallas went small in the fourth as Dorian Finney-Smith got some run at center, and it worked.

The Not so Great for the Mavericks:

Second Quarter: Dallas was outscored 26-14 by Denver. They shot 22.7% from the field in the quarter, and ultimately, the Nuggets took a nine-point lead into halftime.

Bottom Line:

You have to be happy about the play of Porzingis. If he continues to play at this level, the Mavericks are going to give teams fits.

“It is all about confidence for KP,” Hardaway Jr. said. “Just knowing him personally, on and off the floor, he needs to stay active. When he is active in the pick-and-roll situations, picking-and-popping, taking the ball off-dribble off his rebounds, posting up and doing the little things like blocking shots and talking on defense, when he is engaged like that, we can be a dangerous team.”

However, Dallas is hoping Doncic’s injuries are not severe, which according to reports, it’s not. 

“Luka walked off on his own power,” Kidd said. “I think he got rolled up on his lower left leg.”

The Mavericks have struggled with teams above .500 this season(1-3). Monday’s win over Denver was their first win against a team above .500.

What’s Next:

Dallas begins a four-game road trip with a two-game set in Phoenix against the red-hot Suns, who have won nine straight.

Best of the Rest:

-Nikola Jokić led Denver with a season-high 35 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists tonight; Monte Morris (17), Aaron Gordon (14), and Austin Rivers (12) all started and scored in double figures for Denver.

Listen below as Kidd and Porzingis talk win over Denver:

Mavs’ Kidd on loss to Nuggets: ‘When you have games like this, no matter how you look at it, it’s just bad’

The Dallas Mavericks came into Denver riding a three-game winning streak after losing their season-opener to the Atlanta Hawks. The Mavericks(3-2) were playing their first back-to-back game of the season on Friday, and it showed. 

The Mavericks got off to another slow start and trailed by 11 at halftime. In the third quarter, Dallas would entirely fall apart. The Nuggets(3-2) led by as many as 35 points. Ultimately, they would defeat Dallas 106-75.

The Great for the Mavericks:

Nothing good came from this game. Dallas was never in this one on Friday night. Here’s the good thing, it’s only one game in October. There are 77 more games left.

Here’s a good thing: Eugene Omoruyi scored six points in his NBA debut.

The Not so Great for the Mavericks:

-Dallas leading-scorer Luka Doncic struggled with his shot(6/18 FG, 1/4 3pt), but he did lead the team with 16 points. However, he was not very good.  Doncic’s shot has been off this season. He’s 9/35 from downtown in five games.

-The team’s second-leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. also could not throw a rock in the ocean; he was 1-7 from the field with three points.

Dorian Finney-Smith could not make a shot as well. He was 0/7 from the field with two points.

-Shooting: Dallas shot 29.5 percent from the field. You shoot like that; you should expect to lose.

First-quarter woes: For the fifth straight game, Dallas trailed after the first quarter. Thursday night, they overcame it against the Spurs, but on Friday, against a much better Nuggets’ team, Dallas could not bounce back from their slow start.

Bottom Line:

Jason Kidd said it nicely:

“When you have games like this, no matter how you look at it, it’s just bad,” Kidd said.

Dallas has to throw this one away and move forward.

What’s Next:

Dallas returns home on Sunday to face the Kings.

Best of the Rest:

Will Barton led the Nuggets with 17 points; Nikola Jokic had 11 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists.

 

 

Suns’ Ayton on not getting extension: ‘I’m disappointed, but I’m still trying to get us back to the Finals’

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton got off to a great start on Wednesday night in the season opener against the Nuggets. He was 5/7 from the field and scored 13 of his 15 points tonight in the opening half, including 8 in the first quarter. Ayton added six rebounds for the Suns, and he knocked down one three-pointer on three attempts, tying his career-high for three-point attempts in a game.

However, Ayton would take only three shots the rest of the way as the Suns fell to Denver 110-98.

After the game, Ayton discussed why he did not get many touches in the second half.

“I just believe the ball stopped moving,” Ayton said. “We lost a little bit of rhythm because of our missed shots. Defense is what creates our offense on this team. Fatigue kicks in and not that second effort of getting back on defense and playing the right way. It tends to not come your way sometimes, and just trying to find it, guys on our team trying to find it. It just didn’t happen the way we wanted to make it happen.”

The 23-year-old Ayton was hoping to get a contract extension before Monday’s deadline. The number one overall pick in 2018 was reportedly hoping to get a max contract. However, the two sides could not find common ground, and now, he will be a restricted free agent at the season’s end. 

According to Ayton, he’s disappointed that he did not get the extension.

“One thing about me, throughout my whole life, I’ve always learned to control what I can control,” he said. “At the same time, obviously, I’m disappointed, but I’m still trying to get us back to the Finals. I still have to represent the team and myself as well. I’m just a competitor, man. I just like to compete to the best. Every time I’m in between the lines, that’s what you’re going to see out of me, nothing else.”

Ayton will have to go out and prove he’s a max guy this season. In the end, if he balls out, he will get paid, whether with the Suns or elsewhere. 

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘What could you say other than he was darn-near perfect all night long’

When the Phoenix Suns acquired Chris Paul from the OKC Thunder in the offseason, they got a veteran who can guide a solid collection of young talent, and based on what’s going on in these playoffs, the Suns made the right move.

On Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Denver Nuggets 125-118 in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals to sweep the series and advance to the Western Conference finals.

Paul was remarkable in this game. The 11-time All-Star scored 37 points on 14/19 shooting and seven assists. He was exceptional in the third quarter. Paul was 6-6 from the field with 12 points, and as they have done in every game this series, Phoenix outscored the Nuggets in the third quarter and took a 95-83 lead into the fourth quarter.

At one point, Paul made eight straight midrange jumpers. According to StatMuse, Paul scored 37 points without taking a three-point shot, which ties Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points ever without a three-point field attempt by a 36-year old or older in a playoff game.

According to Suns head coach Monty Williams, Paul played a relatively perfect game.

“What could you say other than he was darn-near perfect all night long,” Williams said. “Scoring the ball, managing the clock, he and I had communication throughout the game on what was working.”

Paul, who got a sweep for the first time in his career and is back in the conference finals for the first time since 2018, showed the world that he still has a lot of basketball left in him. In this series, he averaged 25.5 points and 10.2 assists per game, with only five turnovers.

“A couple years ago, they were writing me off,” Paul told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the game. “You can’t do this.’ This ain’t about me; it’s about us. Shows what you can do when you come together as a team. We’ve got a great team over there, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of it.” 

Paul was not the only guy that stepped up for Phoenix in Game 4. Devin Booker had another big closeout game. Booker scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Sunday night. In the first-round series against the Lakers, Booker scored 47 points in the series-clinching win. Also, Booker and Paul became the first Suns’ teammates to score 30-plus in a playoff game since 2005.

The Suns now focus on the Western Conference finals, and after winning seven straight in the playoffs, it’s clear this team has a great rhythm, and if Paul stays healthy, Phoenix will be a tough out for the Jazz, Clippers, or anybody in the NBA. 

With size(Deandre Ayton), and excellent guard play, Phoenix can win an NBA title; it’s just that simple.

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career’

The Phoenix Suns are one win away from getting to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Denver Nuggets 116-102 at Ball Arena on Friday night.

Phoenix has a commanding 3-0 series lead with an opportunity to sweep this second-round best-of-seven-series in Game 4 in Denver on Sunday night. 

The Suns have not been to the conference finals since 2010.

All five Suns’ starters scored in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 28 points, six rebounds, and four assists, Chris Paul’s 27 points, eight assists, and six rebounds, and Deandre Ayton had 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic, who received his MVP trophy on Friday night, had a triple-double and led the Nuggets with 32 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists—joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only two others players in NBA history to have a 30/20/10 game in the playoffs.

The Suns had another big third quarter in Game 3 and outscored the Nuggets 31-21 on Friday night. In total, Phoenix has outscored Denver by 29 points in the third quarter this series.

The moment Paul got right from the shoulder injury was the moment Phoenix started to take off in these playoffs. The Suns have won six straight in the playoffs by an average of 17 points per game. Paul has 34 assists and three turnovers in this series against the Nuggets. Also, Paul has been magical in the fourth quarter in this series against Denver; Paul has scored 30 points, including eight points on Friday night, on 12-13 from the field, with eight assists and zero turnovers. 

“He an unbelievable basketball player, but he has an unbelievable mind and will to play the game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Paul. “So, I’m not even sure he even thinks about the turnovers. I think he’s just trying to make the right plays. He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career.

Despite being down 3-0, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, whose team came back from 3-1 twice in the playoffs last season, hopes his team can be the first to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs in NBA history.

“As far as the 3-0 deficit, yes, history is not on our side,” Malone said. “But you know what? We have rewritten history the last couple of years. When we were down 3-1 twice last year, it was never about trying to win three more games. It was about winning the next game, winning the first quarter, winning the second quarter, and that’s got to be our mindset.”

Denver appears to be a team that has run out of gas. They are without their second-best player in point guard Jamal Murray, which puts more pressure on Jokic, who can’t do any more than what he did on Friday night. 

This series probably over. No one has come back from 3-0 in NBA history, and barring a miracle, it probably does not happen in this series.

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘He manages games better than anybody I’ve ever been around’

When Chris Paul is right, the Phoenix Suns are right, and that has been the case in the first two games of their second-round matchup against the Denver Nuggets, including Wednesday night’s 123-98 victory over Denver at Phoenix Suns Arena.

In 30 minutes of action, Paul had 17 points, 15 assists, five rebounds, and maybe the best number of all, zero turnovers. The Suns had six players in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 18 points and 10 rebounds and Deandre Ayton’s 15 points and 10 rebounds.

According to StatMuse, Paul is the first player with 15 points, 15 assists, and zero turnovers in a playoff game since he did it in 2008 and 2014.

Phoenix holds a 2-0 series lead as the scene shifts to Denver for Games 3 and 4, starting on Friday night.

Phoenix led by 10 at halftime and took complete control in the third quarter. The Suns went on a 13-4 run to start the quarter and led by as many as 22 points in the third. Phoenix pushed their lead to as much as 31 points in the fourth quarter.

According to Suns head coach Monty Williams, Paul, who had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1 of this series, is the best game manager he’s been around.

“He manages games better than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Williams said. “It’s not something I take for granted; it’s not something our team takes for granted.”

Paul, who passed Jerry West to move into 14th on the playoffs All-Time Assist leaderboard, added: “Just reading the game, man. Just finding open guys, picking my spots. We’ve got an unbelievable team in the way that we’ve got shooters.”

The 36-year-old Paul is the perfect point guard. He does everything right on the floor and makes sure everybody is in the right spots. The key for Paul is health, which has derailed his championship hopes in the past with the Clippers and Rockets. Clearly, if he stays healthy, Phoenix has a chance to make it to the NBA Finals and possibly win a title.

Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic wins NBA MVP

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic had a remarkable season, and that special was rewarded after he was named the NBA’s MVP on Tuesday.

Jokic, who won the award for the first time in his career, is the lowest-drafted player(41st overall selection in 2014) to be named league MVP 

The 26-year-old center becomes the first player to earn the honor as a member of the Nuggets. He is also the first player from Serbia to be selected as the NBA MVP and joins Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) as MVP winners from Europe.

In his sixth NBA season, Jokic played all 72 games and averaged a career-high 26.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, a career-high 8.4 assists, and 1.32 steals in 34.8 minutes. With his season averages, Jokic ranked 12th in the NBA in points, ninth in rebounds, sixth in assists, and 22nd in steals. He is the third player in NBA history to average at least 26.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists in a season, joining Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.

This season, he broke the franchise records for career double-doubles and triple-doubles. He also became the first Nuggets player to start an NBA All-Star Game since 2011.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (586 points) finished in second place in the MVP voting, followed by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (453 points) in third place, Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo (348 points) in fourth place, and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (139 points) in fifth place. 

If Embiid could have found a way to stay healthy, he probably wins the award, especially when considering that the 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, give credit to Jokic; he did it all for the Nuggets and is well-deserving of league MVP.

The Nuggets play Game 2 of their second-round playoff matchup against the Suns on Thursday night. Phoenix leads the series 1-0.

Suns’ Paul on Game 1: ‘It was fun to get out there and be involved’

In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, the game changed in the third quarter.

Denver led 70-60 with just over eight minutes left in the quarter. From there, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 28-9 in the third quarter and would win Game 1 122-105 at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday night.

We may have finally seen a healthy Chris Paul. In the fourth quarter, Paul, who had been battling a shoulder injury, scored 10 straight points. Paul(6-6 fg) had 14 of his 21 points in the quarter. He also added 11 assists.

Phoenix’s five starters all scored in double figures, led by Mikal Bridges’ 23 points. 

“The only way you get a chance to see how it is is during the game,” Paul said about his shoulder. “It was good. It was fun to get out there and be involved. That last series was, that was tough. I’m glad to be back helping the team.”

Devin Booker, who scored 21 points on Monday night, added this on Paul: “He just made plays… Not only scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That’s been the story of the season for us.”

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Phoenix.

A big matchup in this series is the center battle between MVP Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton. Jokic(23) outscored Ayton(20), but Jokic had more field goal attempts(23) than Ayton(13), and Ayton(10) had more rebounds than Jokic(9).

Before the game, Jokic said Ayton gives him trouble. After the Suns’ win, Ayton talked Jokic.

“I love playing against Jokic, man,” Ayton said. “That’s the MVP of our league. He has so much; he has a lot to cover. Dude can do anything. That’s just the modern center there… We just have to keep competing and stay locked in.”

Phoenix is at its best when Paul is healthy, which we saw in Game 1. The Suns not only have an excellent team, but they have a great home crowd who was into the game from start to finish

The Nuggets will make adjustments, and we’ll see how much that will help in Game 2.

Watch as Paul, Ayton, Booker, and Bridges react to team’s win Game 1 win over Denver:

Spurs’ Popovich thinks Jokic could be the best passer in basketball

It has been rough sledding for the San Antonio Spurs of late. San Antonio has lost five straight and 10 of their last 12, including Friday’s 121-119 loss to the Nuggets, as Denver swept the two-game set at Ball Arena and extended their winning streak to eight games.

Denver(34-18) defeated the Spurs 106-96 on Wednesday night.

The Spurs trailed by as much as 18 points in the first half on Friday night but made a furious run in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, but Keldon Johnson came up short on his drive to the basket, and DeMar DeRozan missed a putback at the buzzer.

It appeared that San Antonio could get routed in this contest. The Spurs never led in this game and trailed by 13 points entering the fourth quarter. However, Derrick White did everything in his power to bring the Spurs back, including scoring 14 of his team-high 25 points in the final quarter, but it wasn’t enough.

On Friday night, San Antonio saw the greatness of Nikola Jokic on full display. Jokic had a triple-double with 26 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds, and in the two-game set against the Spurs, Jokic averaged 25.5 points, 12.0 assists, and 11 rebounds.

After the loss to the Nuggets, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had high praise for the three-time All-Star.

“That’s why they are a helluva team,” Popovich said. “Jokic is maybe the best passer in the league. Certainly, the best big-man passer and better than most wings, so sure, he sets the table for everybody; he’s great.”

Jokic is special and a legitimate MVP candidate. There are not many things he can’t do on a basketball court, and with the addition of Aaron Gordon before the trade deadline, Denver looks like a team that can make a run at an NBA title.

As for the Spurs(24-26), who are 9th in the Western Conference, it does not get any easier as they continue their five-game road trip on Sunday night against the Mavericks.

Watch below as Pop talks Jokic: