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Jahlil Okafor
Basketball Daily Dose

Jrue returns, but Okafor and Ingram shine

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: November 1, 2019, 2:33 am ET

As usual the Thursday night schedule in the NBA was a light one, with there only being three games on the slate. There was also some disciplinary news, as the NBA announced that 76ers center Joel Embiid and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns were both given two-game suspensions due to their Wednesday night wrestling match. For Philadelphia, the offseason signing of Al Horford will undoubtedly help the team account for the absence of Embiid. Like Embiid, Horford is capable of scoring both inside and on the perimeter, which helps with the spacing given Ben Simmons’ perimeter shooting capabilities (or lack thereof).

Also, Kyle O’Quinn should be in line for a minutes increase after playing just five minutes Wednesday night, and maybe Jonah Bolden will receive a few more minutes as well. 

As for Minnesota, the task of filling the void left by Towns may prove to be a little more difficult. Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell are already in the rotation, but Bell has only appeared in two games due to a left calf strain suffered during the preseason. It’s difficult to see Bell’s minutes increasing too much at this stage, so maybe this opens the door for Gorgui Dieng to play some during the next two games. Dieng has only appeared in one game this season, playing six minutes in an October 25 home win over the Hornets. Minnesota’s next two games are against the Wizards (Saturday) and Bucks (Monday). 

Moving on to Thursday’s games, the recap will begin with New Orleans’ 15-point win over Denver. Jrue Holiday made his return after missing two games due to soreness in his left knee, but the headliners for the Pelicans were two other starters that helped lead New Orleans to its first win of the season.

Pelicans 122, Nuggets 107 

The aforementioned Holiday returned to the starting lineup without a minutes restriction, and the veteran guard was able to play 32 minutes without any issues. Holiday shot 7-of-17 from the field, scoring 19 points with seven assists, five rebounds, two steals, five 3-pointers and two turnovers. And after shooting a combined 1-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first two games of the season, he was 5-of-9 Thursday night. Holiday was one of three New Orleans starters to score in double figures, with the others being Jahlil Okafor and Brandon Ingram

With Derrick Favors out due to right knee soreness Okafor is of even greater importance to the Pelicans, and he more than held his own against Nikola Jokic. In 34 minutes Okafor shot 8-of-13 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line, scoring 26 points with five rebounds, two steals, one assist, one blocked shot and three turnovers. And with Jaxon Hayes (five points, two rebounds, one turnover and four fouls in nine minutes) struggling with foul trouble, Okafor wound up only nine fewer minutes than he did in New Orleans’ first four games of the season combined (he played 30 minutes of more in eight games in 2018-19). 

As for Ingram he posted a line of 25 points (7-of-12 FGs, 9-of-11 FTs), five assists, three rebounds, two 3-pointers and three turnovers in a team-high 36 minutes. The slender forward has scored at least 22 points in each of his five games as a Pelican, posting averages of 27.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.8 steals and 3.5 three-pointers per with shooting splits of 50.0% from the field, 50.0% from three and 73.3% from the foul line. It’s safe to say that the change in scenery has worked out for Ingram thus far. 

The return of Holiday and the matchup, as Denver started its usual front court tandem of Jokic and Paul Millsap, led to there being two changes to the Pelicans starting lineup. Josh Hart (three points, five rebounds, one assist, one three-pointer and one turnover in 27 minutes) and JJ Redick (seven points, two rebounds, two assists, one block and one three-pointer in 17 minutes) moved back to the bench, with Holiday and Nicolo Melli starting. Melli played 19 minutes, scoring seven points (2-of-5 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) to go along with four rebounds, two assists one steal, one blocked shot, one three-pointer and one turnover. 

There would be three Pelicans that scored at least 21 points on the night, with Frank Jackson joining Okafor and Ingram. Jackson gave New Orleans a spark during the first quarter, scoring ten of his 21 points during that stanza. He would finish 8-of-10 from the field (4-of-6 from three) while also grabbing three rebounds and notching a steal in his 19 minutes on the court. Jackson has scored nine points or more in all five games this season, and he has replaced E’Twaun Moore in the Pelicans’ perimeter rotation. 

Lonzo Ball finished with nine points, eight assists, three rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker failed to score (0-of-5 FGs) but contributed five rebounds and three assists off the bench. Ball appeared to be dealing with some left shoulder discomfort, using a heating pad when not in the game, but he still managed to play 32 minutes. 

Denver also changed its starting lineup, with Torrey Craig starting in place of the injured Will Barton (toe). Craig tallied two points, two rebounds and one turnover in his 20 minutes on the court. The lineup change also freed up playing time for rookie forward Michael Porter Jr., who played his first official NBA minutes Thursday night. Porter checked in during the first quarter, and in his 21 minutes he shot 5-of-8 from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line. In addition to the team-high 15 points, he also accounted for four rebounds, one assist, one three-pointer and one turnover. 

In total four Nuggets reserves played at least 21 minutes, with Jerami Grant going for 14 points and five rebounds with a blocked shot in his 25 minutes. Malik Beasley played 28 but wasn’t particularly efficient, scoring 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting with two rebounds, one assist, one steal, three 3-pointers and two turnovers, and Monte Morris posted a line of nine points, eight assists and one three-pointer in 22 minutes. Mason Plumlee played 15 minutes, the same as Millsap, and filled the stat sheet with ten points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and three turnovers. 

Two days removed from scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a loss to the Mavericks in Dallas, Millsap wasn’t nearly as effective against the Pelicans. He shot 3-of-8 from the field, scoring ten points with three rebounds and one turnover. New Orleans went small throughout the night, which likely played a role in Millsap getting just 15 minutes. Jamal Murray led the Nuggets starters with 14 points (six assists, three rebounds, one steal, one three-pointer and three turnovers), with Nikola Jokic (six rebounds, six assists, one steal and two turnovers) and Gary Harris (two rebounds, one steal, one block and one three-pointer) adding 13 and nine points, respectively. 

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Heat 106, Hawks 97

Two nights after the teams met in Miami, the Heat and Hawks played the back end of their home-and-home Thursday night in Atlanta. The home team was without its point guard, as Trae Young left Tuesday’s loss in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle. The good news for Young and the Hawks is that the injury wasn’t as serious as originally feared, and he’s considered to be day-to-day at this point. On Thursday he was replaced in the starting lineup by Kevin Huerter, who joined rookies Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter on the perimeter. 

That meant more time on the ball for Reddish, and with Huerter still on a minutes restriction (25 minutes now, up from 20), there were more opportunities to create for DeAndre’ Bembry as well. Huerter actually exceeded his restriction by one minute, tallying seven points (3-of-9 FGs), four rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer in 26 minutes of play. As for Reddish, while his struggles shooting the basketball continued he was able to contribute in other areas. The rookie out of Duke shot 2-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line, scoring nine points with six rebounds, four assists, one steal, one blocked shot, one three-pointer and one turnover in 29 minutes. 

Reddish is now 9-of-43 from the field and 1-of-18 from beyond the arc on the season, but he’s been solid on the boards and as a defender (help side and in the steals department).  The hope is that while the rookie guard continues to contribute in other areas, his shot will eventually come around. As for Hunter, he was just 1-of-9 from the field and finished with four points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and three turnovers in 28 minutes. 

The two perimeter players who took advantage of their increased opportunities with Young out were Bembry and Tyrone Wallace. Bembry played 28 minutes, shooting 8-of-12 from the field and posting a line of 18 points, ten rebounds, eight assists, two steals and four turnovers. This was the fourth-year guard’s first double-digit scoring effort of the season, and he is now one-third of the way to matching his double-double total from a season ago (three). As for Wallace, he played five more minutes than he did in his Hawks debut Tuesday night (14 minutes) and accounted for 12 points (6-of-10 FGs), three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers.  

The turnover count is something to watch with both players, but especially Bembry as he’ll be a part of the Hawks rotation even when Young and Evan Turner return to action. If he can keep the miscues down to a minimum, Bembry may be worth checking out as a streaming option given the Hawks’ current lack of healthy playmakers. 

In the front court John Collins finished with 12 points (4-of-11 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), seven rebounds, three blocks, one assist, one steal, two 3-pointers and two turnovers in 33 minutes. Atlanta avoided another major injury issue when the third-year forward was able to return after rolling his left ankle during the third quarter. Atlanta’s lengthy break in the schedule (they’re off until Tuesday) will give Collins some time to rest that injured ankle. 

Jabari Parker came off the bench to lead the Hawks with 23 points (8-of-13 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), eight rebounds, two assists, two 3-pointers and one turnover in 25 minutes, helping to cover for the struggles of Hunter and Alex Len (five points, four rebounds, one assist, one three-pointer and two turnovers in 14 minutes. Len’s struggles meant more minutes for Damian Jones, who played eight minutes in Tuesday’s loss in Miami. Jones played 16 Thursday night, accounting for four points (1-of-3 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) and four rebounds. 

For the winners, Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn made history in Atlanta. Butler wasn’t much of a factor as a scorer, as he finished with five points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field. But he did have an impact in other areas, tallying 11 assists, nine rebounds, six steals, three blocked shots and four turnovers in his 35 minutes on the floor. Butler is the third player in franchise history to tally at least seven rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and three steals according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. Butler joins Dwyane Wade (four times) and LeBron James (twice). 

As for Nunn, the undrafted rookie continued his hot start to his NBA career by scoring 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line. In his 33 minutes Nunn also tallied four three-pointers (on six attempts), two rebounds, two steals and three turnovers. He now holds the NBA record for the most points scored by an undrafted rookie in his first five games, passing Connie Hawkins, and Nunn is also the first player to both score at least 100 points and make at least 15 three-pointers in his first five games since Kevin Durant did back in 2007. It’s obviously very early in the season, but according to Basketball Monster, Nunn is a top-25 player in nine-category leagues and top-30 in eight-cat.

The rookie guard led five double-digit scorers for the Heat, and that quintet includes fellow rookie Tyler Herro. In his second straight game coming off the bench Herro played 30 minutes, scoring 17 points (7-of-16 FGs) with four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one blocked shot, three 3-pointers and one turnover. Meyers Leonard added 16 points, right rebounds, two assists, two blocks and three 3-pointers, with Bam Adebayo (seven assists, six rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one three-pointer) and Duncan Robinson (three rebounds, two 3-pointers and one turnover) scoring 12 apiece. 

With regards to Adebayo, he has dished out at least seven assists in two of the last four games (eight vs. Milwaukee on October 26) and has five in three of Miami’s five games. In the first two seasons of his career Adebayo had a total of 20 games in which he tallied at least five assists. At this rate, he may be able to either match or exceed that number during the current campaign. 

Clippers 103, Spurs 97 

Kawhi Leonard posted his second double-double in his last three games Thursday, as he accounted for 38 points, 12 rebounds, four steals, one assist, two 3-pointers and four turnovers in 34 minutes. Leonard needed 32 field goal attempts (and a 6-of-6 night from the foul line), making 15, to establish a new season-high in the Clippers’ six-point win over the Spurs. Also, the assist count isn’t something that should cause much concern. This was his first single-assist effort of the season, and there were only seven games last season in which Leonard finished with either zero or one assist to his credit. 

While there were load management concerns heading into the season (Leonard sat out Wednesday’s game), he may have slipped a bit too far in some drafts for this reason. Leonard is a top-5 player in both eight- and nine-category leagues at this early point in the season, and it goes without saying that he has the talent to play at this level all season long. The Clippers have 12 back-to-backs left to play this season, with the next being set for November 6/7 (nationally-televised home games against Milwaukee and Portland). With the Clippers off until Sunday when the Jazz visit Staples Center, one of those games could be when Leonard takes his next load management day. 

Two of the Clippers’ three double-digit scorers came off the bench, which isn’t much of a surprise considering the fact that Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were those players. They played 31 and 32 minutes, respectively, with Harrell scoring 24 on 9-of-11 shooting from the field (6-of-9 FTs) to go along with four rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and three turnovers. Williams had a tough night shooting the ball, as he was just 5-of-19 from the field and finished with 12 points, but he did contribute five assists and two rebounds. Williams and Patrick Beverley led the way in assists, with Beverley also responsible for eight points, four rebounds and one three-pointer in his 32 minutes played. 

Harrell’s production was give given the struggles of Patrick Patterson, who while tallying nine rebounds, two assists and one steal also missed all five of his shots and went scoreless in his 19 minutes on the court. Ivica Zubac played 17 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds, and Landry Shamet scored seven with two assists, one steal and one three-pointer on what was a rough shooting night (2-of-8 FGs) for him. Moe Harkless did not miss from the field, going 3-of-3 and finishing with eight points, four rebounds and one steal in 20 minutes off the bench, while JaMychal Green failed to score but managed to account for eight rebounds and one steal. 

The Clippers had one more double-digit scorer than the Spurs, who had just two with DeMar DeRozan leading the way. In 35 minutes he shot 13-of-21 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line, scoring 29 points with seven rebounds, two assists and one steal, but he also had a game-high seven turnovers. On the season, he’s averaging 4.3 turnovers per contest and has racked up four or more in three of San Antonio’s first four games. By comparison DeRozan averaged 2.6 turnovers per game last season, and for his career that figure is down to 2.0. For that reason he’s outside of the top-100 in nine-category leagues, and just inside of the top-70 in eight-cat, at this early juncture in the season. 

LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles, San Antonio’s other front court starters, combined to score nine points on 4-of-10 shooting. While Lyles posting a line of four points and four rebounds isn’t all that surprising, Aldridge going for five points (2-of-8 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three turnover is. Credit the Clippers for making life difficult for Aldridge during his 36 minutes on the floor, as the five points are the fewest he’s scored in a regular season game since November 30, 2016 (five points in a win over Dallas). While Thursday’s performance wasn’t pretty, it would not be a surprise if Aldridge were to bounce back in a big way Friday night as the Spurs visit a struggling Warriors squad that is without Stephen Curry (broken left hand). 

Starting guards Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes (eight points, two 3-pointers and one turnover) weren’t much better with regards to scoring, as they finished the night with nine and eight points, respectively. Murray shot 2-of-5 from the field and 4-of-6 from the charity stripe, and along with his nine points he filled the stat sheet with seven rebounds, three steals, two assists, one blocked shot and two turnovers. He won’t be playing Friday, as the team is both restricting his minutes and holding him out of back-to-backs early in the season after the guard missed all of last season with a torn ACL. 

San Antonio’s other double-digit scorer was Derrick White, who shot 3-of-4 from three and posted a line of 20 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one steal and one turnover in 25 minutes. Given the lack of three-point shooting in the starting lineup, White’s shot-making ability helped keep the Spurs in the game until the Clippers managed to pull away late. Rudy Gay shot just 3-of-10 from the field, but he grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and dished out a team-high four assists to supplement his nine points. 

Friday’s Schedule (all times Eastern) 

Houston at Brooklyn, 7 PM 

Cleveland at Indiana, 7 PM 

Milwaukee at Orlando, 7 PM 

New York at Boston, 7:30 PM

Detroit at Chicago, 8 PM 

LA Lakers at Dallas, 9:30 PM 

Utah at Sacramento, 10 PM 

San Antonio at Golden State, 10:30 PM 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.