NBA

Jokic double-double as Nuggets rout Timberwolves, Morant hurt as Lakers beat Grizzlies

By Sports Desk April 17, 2023

Nikola Jokic recorded a double-double while Jamal Murray top scored as the Denver Nuggets re-discovered their form with a dominant 109-80 blowout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

The Western Conference top seed Nuggets had gone 7-8 in their final 15 regular-season games, but snapped back into form in Game 1 of their first round playoffs series at Ball Arena.

Denver pulled away with a 32-14 third quarter, highlighted by five three-pointers.

Murray top scored with 24 points, making four-of-10 from three-point range, with eight rebounds and eight assists, while Michael Porter Jr also made four triples in his 18 points with 11 rebounds.

Porter Jr's game was capped by a hammer jam late in the first half as the Nuggets started to pull clear.

Jokic scored 13 points on six-of-12 shooting with 14 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds, and six assists.

Despite his modest stats, the Serbian center was influential in the first half with a no-look pass for Bruce Brown's three-pointer along with a classy spin to glide past Rudy Gobert in the lane.

The Timberwolves were no match for the top seed with Karl-Anthony Towns, who was the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year in Jokic's rookie season, struggling for 11 points on five-of-15 shooting.

Former NBA Draft top overall pick Anthony Edwards only managed 18 points with five assists, while veteran point guard Mike Conley had eight points, four rebounds and three assists.

Clutch Kawhi leads Clippers past Suns

Kawhi Leonard came up clutch with two late three-pointers among his 38 points while Russell Westbrook made a critical block as the Los Angeles Clippers won 115-110 over the Phoenix Suns.

The Clippers put together three straight three-pointers in three plays in the final three minutes, including two from Leonard before kicking out a pass to Eric Gordon to make it 109-103 with 1:33 left.

With Suns cut it back to one point but Westbrook blocked Devin Booker with before making two free-throws to seal the win. Westbrook shot three-of-19 but never stopped, finishing with 10 rebounds including five in offense and eight assists.

Leonard went 13-of-24 from the field with three triples along with five rebounds and five assists, while Gordon added 19 with Paul George still out injured. Kevin Durant top scored for Phoenix with 27 points and 11 assists while Booker had 26 points and Chris Paul added 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Lakers down Grizzlies, Heat shock Bucks

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed an early road win 128-112 over the Memphis Grizzlies with Ja Morant suffering a fourth-quarter hand injury to throw their first round series wide open.

Rui Hachimura scored a playoff career-best 29 points with 21 in the second half as the Lakers rallied back from a 65-59 half-time deficit, pulling clear late after Morant exited with 5:48 remaining at 105-101.

Morant was kept to 18 points with six rebounds, while Jaren Jackson Jr had 31 points with five rebounds and two blocks.

LeBron James had 21 points and 11 rebounds with two steals and three blocks, while Anthony Davis contributed 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks. Lakers guard Austin Reaves added 23 points.

Eastern Conference eight seed Miami Heat pulled off an upset 130-117 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks who lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to a lower back contusion before half-time. The Heat lost Tyler Herro to a broken hand but Jimmy Butler stepped up with 35 points and 11 assists.

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    The Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 on Tuesday, meaning they progress to the first round of the playoffs.

    A series against the reigning NBA champions awaits, starting on Saturday.

    And James, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, knows the Lakers will have to deliver a near-perfect performance.

    "It's the defending champion," James said.

    "They know what it takes. They know how to win. They've been extremely dominant on their home floor over the last few years.

    "They've got an MVP on their team. They've got a closer on their team. They've got high-level players, high-IQ players, and they've got a hell of a coach.

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    "But if we can play as great of a game as we can play, and they're going to play as great of a game as they play, it's going come down to one or two possessions. We'll see who executes then."

    It was put to Lakers coach Darvin Ham that there had been reports the Lakers might throw their game against the Pelicans in order to go up against either the Sacramento Kings or the Golden State Warriors in the other play-in game.

    The Kings ultimately won, and will now face the Pelicans, with the prize a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Western Conference's No.1 seed.

    "There was a report of what?" an incredulous Ham said. "Insane asylum sources say?"

    The Lakers reached the Conference Finals last year, and Anthony Davis is confident Los Angeles are coming into their best form at the opportune moment.

    "I think we're clicking at the right time," Davis said.

    "Guys are playing well. Guys are very confident. Guys are feeling good. And we're going to need it, especially against Denver."

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    "We knew what was on the line," said Fox, who scored 24 points for the Kings.

    "This was just another obstacle in our way. We have to get over this hump.

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    "I was a sophomore in high school watching them win championships [four titles between 2015 and 2022]," Fox said.

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    Speaking to reporters, James said: “It was a good all-round team win. This was a long road trip, you almost forget we were in Memphis before these two games.

    “Tonight was definitely a play-off game so get your mind right, get your body right, try to get as much recovery as we can before we have to go out there on Saturday.

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