10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Nuggets -3, Over/Under: 228.5
MVP candidates collide in San Francisco as the resilient Denver Nuggets battle the Golden State Warriors for the second time in eleven days, with this chapter taking place at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. A surprise participant in last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets (38-20, 4th in Western Conference) entered the 2020-2021 campaign earmarked as a true contender out West, though it wouldn’t be until after the All-Star Break that they would finally find their rhythm. Following the midseason respite, Denver has gone to win seventeen of their last twenty-two games, aided largely by three factors: the dominance of MVP frontrunner, Nikola Jokic (26.4 PTS, 56.8% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 11.0 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.7 BLK, 31.3 PER), the continued development of young forward, Michael Porter Jr. (17.6 PTS, 54.1% FG, 43.0% 3FG, 7.7 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.9 BLK, 20.0 PER), and the addition of versatile forward, Aaron Gordon (10.8 PTS, 52.3% FG, 28.6% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 15.6 PER), at the trade deadline. First, Jokic continues to inspire as one of the most singularly unique talents in the league today, with the towering Serbian International leading his side in a slew of categories, including scoring (26.4), field goal percentage (56.8%), free-throws (246) and attempts (288), rebounds (11.0), assists (8.7), and steals (1.4). (Head Coach) Mike Malone has entrusted the three-time All-Star with essentially running the offense from the elbow or high post, with the 26-year old adept at hitting any of his teammates cutting towards the rim, or rolling off a screen for an open jumper. Furthermore, there is no shortage of weapons within his arsenal, posting up smaller bigs while torturing larger opponents with a dizzying array of moves. Jokic has totaled fifteen Triple-Doubles thus far, including a 23/14/10 showing back on January 14th when he faced the Warriors for the first time this season. In two matchups, he has averaged 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 9.0 assists, while shooting 48.6% from the field, and knocking down 13-of-15 free-throws (86.6%). Second, we have Porter Jr. who in his first full campaign of real action has continued to show flashes of becoming the offensive menace that the club envisioned when they drafted him fourteenth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. After missing his entire rookie campaign following back surgery and being brought along slowly as a Sophomore, the 22-year old has really taken some important steps towards realizing his lofty potential in this his third year as a pro; logging a career-high 30.9 minutes a night (nearly twice as much as last season), Porter has averaged 17.6 points on 54.1% shooting, including 43.0% from downtown, and 7.7 rebounds. When the Nuggets last met the Warriors, it was more than simply a 116-107 loss for it was a potentially devastating one given the unfortunate injury of (sharpshooting Guard) Jamal Murray (21.2 PTS, 47.7% FG, 40.8% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 18.4 PER), who tore his ACL in the latter stages of the affair, ending his run with the club this season and imperiling that of the next as well. Murray came of age during last year’s run to the Western Conference Finals and after some early bumps in the road had begun to put together what was certainly a career campaign, making this turn of events all the more disastrous. With Murray out for the foreseeable future, the pressure will be on Porter to keep developing into the player that he can become, and given his recent string of performances in Murray’s absence, it looks like he’s well on his way towards achieving just that; Porter has averaged 21.0 points on a torrid 61.5% shooting since that loss to Golden State, including a ridiculous 52.0% from beyond the arc. Coincidentally, Denver hasn’t lost since that fateful night, winning four consecutive games in which they’ve outscored the opposition by a staggering 12.2 points per game. Of course, the addition of Gordon has helped facilitate this success with or without Murray, with the 25-year old eager to prove that his struggles with the Magic weren’t quite his of his own making. The 4th Overall Pick in the 2014 Draft, Gordon has proven to be an excellent fit in Malone’s system, with his athleticism playing well off the creative influences of Jokic, shooting a career-high 52.3% from the field, while adding a versatile presence on the defensive end of the hardwood. It’s no coincidence that immediately after his acquisition the Nuggets went on a season-high eight-game winning streak, with Gordon filling the role vacated by former Nugget, Jermai Grant, who left for greener pastures as an unrestricted Free Agent. Since his addition to the club, Denver has won all but two of their last fourteen games, averaging 115.3 points on an efficient 49.2% shooting from the floor, including 38.6% from three, with a healthy 27.8 assists in comparison to committing just 13.9 turnovers. As a result, Malone’s charges have found themselves wedged comfortably between the two Los Angeles powerhouses, trailing the Clippers by 2.5 games for third while leading the Lakers by three for fourth.
“It’s a proud win for us… Every win for us is really important right now.”Nikola Jokic on the Nuggets narrow 106-105 victory at the Trail Blazers on Wednesday Night, their fourth consecutive win since losing Jamal Murray for the remainder of the campaign to a torn ACL.
When we last saw the Nuggets, they won their fourth consecutive game since losing the aforementioned Murray for the rest of the season and beyond, narrowly edging the Portland Trail Blazers in a 106-105 affair from Moda Center in the Pacific Northwest. Trailing by as many as ten points in the Third Quarter, the visitors would cut into the lead and slowly claw away in a fourth period that saw both teams struggle mightily to put the ball through the nylon. Denver, who partook in a 139-137 double-overtime affair against Memphis two nights prior, could muster just 8-of-22 shooting (36.4%) in the final period, though managed to relegate the home side to a paltry 8-of-27 (29.6%), with the Bench playing a huge role in the proceeds as PJ Dozier (7.1 PTS, 41.2% FG, 32.5% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.6 STL, 10.6 PER), Paul Millsap (9.0 PTS, 48.9% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.7 BLK, 16.3 PER), and the recently added Austin Rivers (5.0 PTS, 50.0% FG, 3.0 REB, 18.1 PER), combined for seventeen of the Nuggets’ twenty-four points. After Damian Lillard tied the game with 1:37 left to play, Jokic was fouled while shooting a three and subsequently drained each free-throw to take a 106-103 lead. Lillard would draw Portland within one following a lay-up, though Norman Powell’s floater at the buzzer would not reach it’s mark. In the end, Malone’s troops shot 44.3% overall, including 13-of-39 from beyond the arc (33.3%), with twenty-four assists opposed to thirteen turnovers. Speaking of turnovers, they no doubt proved to be the difference in such a close affair; though the Blazers only committed eleven, the Nuggets exploited them t the tune of twenty-two points, which was much greater than the thirteen points that the hosts managed to produce. Jokic totaled twenty-five points on 9-of-18 shooting (50.0%), along with nine rebounds, five assists, and a block, while Porter added seventeen points (all of which came in the First Quarter) on 8-of-12 shooting (66.7%), with five rebounds and a pair of assists. Will Barton (12.9 PTS, 42.6% FG, 38.1% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 3.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.9 PER) would contribute with fourteen points, six rebounds, four assists, and a steal, while Gordon and Argentina International, Facundo Campazzo (5.2 PTS, 38.8% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 1.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 10.5 PER), scored a dozen points apiece. Though he certainly made his share of plays in the final period, Lillard was largely held in check by the visiting side, who limited the All-NBA Guard to twenty-two points on 9-of-23 shooting (39.1%), including 2-of-10 from three (20.0%), which were all well off his season averages. Now they look to slow down Stephen Curry (more on him shortly) and the Warriors, whom they’ll be meeting for the third and final time this season. When they met back in the middle of January, he scored thirty-five points in a 114-104 Nuggets victory only to torch them for FIFTY-THREE points on 10-of-18 shooting from downtown (55.6%) in the most recent encounter, a 116-107 Warriors win a little over a week ago.
Meanwhile, the NBA’s implementation and expansion of the Bubble’s Play-In Tournament has opened up plenty of debate over the past few weeks, with various players, coaches, and executives sounding off on the positives and negatives of this newest extension of the Postseason. There is no doubt that the Warriors (29-30, 10th in Western Conference), no matter what some of their number may state publicly, must be one of the biggest advocates of this change to the Playoff format, for without it there would be a VERY slim chance that they would have anything to play for at this point. Given everything that has happened to Golden State over the past two years, qualifying for the Playoffs in some fashion is absolutely vital to a franchise that reigned over the Association for the better part of five years, advancing to five consecutive NBA Finals from 2015 to 2019 and winning three Championships along the way. However, since that last trip to the Finals they’ve since lost a perennial MVP candidate in the form of Kevin Durant, who left via Free Agency two summers ago, they’ve been without All-NBA sharpshooter, Klay Thompson, who tore both his ACL and Achilles in successive summers, and they’ve endured a dismal 15-50 campaign as they opened the doors to their new state-of-the-art home, Chase Center in San Francisco. Needless to say, missing the Playoffs in consecutive seasons would be damaging to their brand, and if the Regular Season indeed ended today then (Head Coach) Steve Kerr can rest assured that his charges would be in the Play-In, occupying the tenth and final seed, which would set up an encounter with whomever the seventh seed will be. As the lower seed, the Dubs would have to win two games against said opponent in order to advance to the larger Playoffs, and given their seeding it would mean a matchup with the West’s top overall seed, which for now looks likely to be the Utah Jazz. With thirteen games left to play, they have a three-game advantage over the New Orleans Pelicans for tenth, and are just a game behind the Memphis Grizzlies from climbing into eighth. If they are to ensure their safety and keep climbing the proverbial ladder then it will have to be on the back of (All-NBA Point Guard) Stephen Curry (31.1 PS, 48.6% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 26.3 PER), who has placed himself squarely in the running for what would be his third MVP award. After missing all but five games last season with a broken hand, the seven-time All-Star has been forced to carry this franchise like never before; simply put, the only way the Warriors have managed to sustain success is if the 32-year old scores well over thirty points. Thankfully for the fans’ sake, Curry has been up to the task. Averaging both a career-high and league-best 31.1 points per game, the most lethal shooter in the history of NBA just broke Kobe Bryant’s record of ten consecutive games scoring thirty or more points, averaging an insane 40.0 points on a torrid 54.1% shooting from the field, including 49.7% from beyond the arc, along with 6.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists during a twelve-game stretch in which they Warriors went 7-5 and managed to build themselves a cushion above the Play-In cutoff. Over this period his shooting has been otherworldly, netting ten or more three-pointers in four out of five games at one point, adding to his NBA record of twenty-one. Furthermore, he netted SEVETNY-EIGHT threes in that period, the most by any single player in NBA History. And make no mistake, he HAS to keep playing at this level, for there simply isn’t nearly enough help around him to make up for any dip in performance. Longtime Forward, Draymond Green (6.7 PTS, 41.8% FG, 25.5% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 8.5 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.8 BLK, 12.4 PER) remains a creative agent within the system on both ends of the court, but can’t be relied upon to carry the offensive load, while former No. One Overall Pick (2015) Andrew Wiggins (18.1 PTS, 47.2% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 14.4 PER), has yet to live up to his lofty billing. Furthermore, there just isn’t the depth necessary to make up for any off-shooting night from Curry; Second Overall Pick, James Wiseman (11.5 PTS, 51.9% FG, 31.6% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.9 BLK, 13.2 PER), who has endured plenty of issues throughout his rookie campaign, will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, while other members of the supporting cast, including Damion Lee (Toe), Eric Paschall (Hip), and Juan Toscano-Anderson (Concussion), are all dealing with their own respective ailments. And what happens when Curry does come back down to earth, you ask? Well, you get performances like Wednesday’s loss at the Washington Wizards, who are in virtually the same spot fighting for a place within the Play-In Tournament in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a great run. It was something that hadn’t been done before, and it was going to end at some point… Now you’ve got to start another one.”Steph Curry lamenting the end of his NBA record 11-game scoring streak of 30 or more points, finishing with just 18 points in Wednesday Night’s 118-114 loss at the Washington Wizards.
When we last saw the Warriors, their sensational stretch with Curry leading them to victory came to an end in the Nation’s Capital, as the Wizards edged them in a 118-114 loss on Wednesday Night, only their third loss in the previous nine games. Kerr’s troops found themselves in a hole early, as Washington raced out to a 38-20 lead in the First Quarter, in which the hosts shot a blistering 12-of-22 (54.5%) from the field, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc (44.4%), and 10-of-12 from the charity stripe (83.3%). After shooting 38.1% in the period and committing nine turnovers, the visitors turned things around in the second period, outscoring the Wizards 38-22 followed by 35-26 in the third to take a 93-86 advantage into the final frame of play. It was here that the home side wrested control of the game back from Golden State, who appeared to completely run out of gas, shooting a miserable 8-of-31 from the field (25.8%) in the Fourth Quarter, including just 3-of-13 from downtown (23.1%). Washington in turn, hammered them on the glass (Plus-10), while once again living at the free-throw line, knocking down 12-of-13 singles (92.3%). Billed as a showdown between the NBA’s top two leading scorers, only Bradley Beal carried his end of the bargain, scoring twenty-nine points including a key driving finish in the final moments of the affair to give the suddenly surging Wizards their sixth consecutive victory. Curry on the other hand finally went quiet, scoring just four points in the first half en route to a subdued eighteen points on 7-of-25 shooting (28.0%), including just 2-of-14 from the perimeter (14.3%). He missed his first seven triples of the night and all but two of his first thirteen attempts from the field in what was altogether a rather forgettable performance. Ironically, the Bench is what kept Golden state in the contest, with the tandem of Jordan Poole (11.0 PTS, 42.9% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 1.5 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.5 STL, 14.3 PER) and Kelly Oubre (15.3 PTS, 43.9% FG, 31.8% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.8 BLK, 13.2 PER) accounting for a combined forty-six of the unit’s forty-nine points, with the latter scoring a team-high twenty-four points against the team whom he played his first three and half seasons as a professional with. Oubre also added nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, while Poole caught fire from long-range, netting 6-of-10 threes on the night (60.0%). Wiggins, for his part, totaled fourteen points but struggled mightily on 5-of-20 shooting (25.0%), while veteran swingman, Kent Bazemore (6.7 PTS, 44.8% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.5 BLK, 11. PER), put forth a strong showing with nineteen points, nine rebounds, three assists, and a career-high six steals. Both teams struggled to take care of the basketball with both getting plenty of points via turnovers, combining for a total of fifty-seven points between them, though Washington certainly earned an advantage in transition (15-4) and was by far and away the more aggressive side, knocking down 32-of-38 free-throws (84.2%), twice as many their opponent. The loss brought the Warriors’ run to 3-2 during this five-game eastern road trip, and they’ll be happy that nine of their last thirteen games will be contested at Chase Center as they look to cement their place in the Playoffs, while trying to improve their seeding in the process.