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The Suns are rolling, James Harden is trending in the right direction, the Pacers join the list of teams in need of a coach and Rudy Gobert is your Defensive Player of the Year. Let’s Dose!
The latest on James Harden
ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported on Wednesday that James Harden will miss Game 3 with his right hamstring injury, his second straight on the shelf. He previously missed 18 regular season games with a right hamstring “strain,” but nowadays they are saying he’s out due to “tightness.” Additionally, an MRI revealed no structural damage.
Coach Steve Nash wasn’t ready to put a timetable on it, but did sound hopeful. "He's progressing nicely as well," Nash said of his superstar. "So we're optimistic that we can have him back at some point." Nash added that Harden has "high hopes" and wants to "be back ASAP,” but Andrews reports that the Nets are having to balance its desire to have Harden back with protecting the All-Star guard from any longer-term injury. Simply put, it makes way more sense for the Nets to continue to play it safe with a 2-0 series lead vs. the Bucks as it shifts to their homecourt. The Nets are the favorites to win the title in my opinion even with Harden on the shelf for the time being as their once problematic defense has elevated in the playoffs, so once Harden comes back I don’t see any teams having a prayer against them. Heck, even Blake Griffin has shown up defensively to bully Giannis out of the paint.
Mike Conley’s status up in the air
The Jazz provided another non-update on Conley Wednesday, listing him as questionable for Game 2. He’s been out for exactly a week at this point after suffering a setback, though the Jazz are calling it a mild strain. I still think he’s closer to doubtful though, as Conley has only been a “partial” participant in practice. Joe Ingles did well as the lead playmaker in Game 1, dishing out seven dimes but shooting just 3-of-12 for eight points. Ingles has a per-36 line of 16.9 points, 6.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 triples with Conley off the court this season, so there’s still a lot more upside to be had here if you play in any postseason fantasy formats.
Pacers dump Nate Bjorkgren
These days, we often hear of teams and coaches “parting ways,” but that wasn’t the case in Indiana. The Pacers fired head coach Nate Bjorkgren on Wednesday, and while you can argue that the team had numerous injuries to deal with all season, he apparently lost the locker room a while ago. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, he “struggled with the temperament needed to deal with players and staff as a head coach.” If the Pacers were to commit to a rebuild, there’s a chance they would’ve kept him around, but instead they are focused on improving their core of Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren.
Goga Bitadze could easily be included in this list too, but his path to relevancy will remain blocked unless the Pacers decide to move Turner -- Sabonis isn’t going anywhere. And according to Pacers reporter J. Michael, Turner has been generating some buzz in the rumor mill with the Hornets and Wolves said to be his most aggressive suitors.
Indiana joins Orlando, Portland and Boston as one of four teams in the search for a new head coach. One popular name that seems to be gaining traction in Indiana’s search is Terry Stotts which would be a fine selection, though you have to wonder if the front office is regretting letting go of Nate McMillan after seeing what he did to turn around Atlanta’s season.
De’Andre Hunter’s season is over
The Hawks announced on Wednesday that De’Andre Hunter will undergo surgery on his right meniscus, effectively ending his playoffs. His surgery is scheduled for this weekend, so we’re unlikely to hear specifics in regards to a timetable just yet. Depending on if it’s a repair or a full removal, Hunter’s timetable could range from several weeks to many months (like we saw with Jaren Jackson Jr.).
Drafting players coming off injuries as severe as this instance is becoming a hard pass for me, but the future remains very bright for this young stud after he was well on his way to a breakout season with 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 dimes, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.3 triples on 48% shooting. Cam Reddish is said to be nearing a return, so that would be a huge lift for Atlanta to pick up the slack defensively.
Rudy Gobert wins DPOY
Rudy Gobert racked up his third Defensive Player of the Year Award on Wednesday night, joining Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace and Dwight Howard as the only players in NBA history to win the award three times. And although the playoffs aren’t factored into the voting process, how fitting is it that this comes 24 hours after his game-winning block vs. the Clippers in Game 1. The only thing more epic than the block was the slap of the ball right after (link). Beast.
Suns 123, Nuggets 98 (Suns winning 2-0)
Chris Paul helped the Suns race out to a 2-0 series advantage, quickly putting away the Nuggets in Game 2 and getting some valuable rest in the fourth. Paul generated MVP buzz for a reason and is eager for his shot at his first title, scoring 17 points with 15 assists and zero turnovers -- that’s his third career playoff game with 15+ assists and 0 turnovers which breaks a tie with Magic Johnson for the most since the three-point era (h/t Statsmuse).
Devin Booker, who really seemed to have taken the “leap” in Round 1 vs. the Lakers, barely had to sweat this evening and had a casual 18/10 double-double with three triples and a pair of dimes. As for Deandre Ayton, his only task in this series is to make life difficult for Nikola Jokic and he’s done that about as well as anyone this season. Ayton finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Mikal Bridges added 16 points and two triples in this cakewalk.
Michael Porter Jr. tweaked his back in Game 1, but was able to play through it tonight and finished with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Any time MPJ tweaks his back it’s a major cause for concern when you consider he fell in the draft for this reason, missing his entire rookie season. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent, and the Suns took advantage with Chris Paul smiling ear to ear every time MPJ was switched onto him defensively. If MPJ is going to continue to be abused defensively, he needs to offset it with an offensive explosion like we saw in the regular season.
Will Barton (10 points and three assists in 16 minutes) made his first appearance since April 23rd, returning from a problematic hamstring injury. It’s obviously going to be a game or two before he’s ramped up, but there’s a lot of upside here with the Nuggets missing Jamal Murray. With Murray off the court this season, Barton has a per-36 line of 16.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.3 dimes, 1.2 steals and 2.3 triples with a 3% usage rate bump.
MVP Nikola Jokic had a 24/13/6 line for the Nuggets, but simply didn’t have enough help with Aaron Gordon, Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers combining for 15 points. In fact, Jokic pretty much out produced the entire starting lineup who had a combined 26 points, 11 rebounds and four dimes. Yikes. Games 3 and 4 will be in Denver, but with the Suns playing this well, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they sweep the series.