Best of NBA: Jokic posts triple-double as Nuggets blast Warriors

Best of NBA: Jokic posts triple-double as Nuggets blast Warriors

DENVER -- Nikola Jokic got his second career triple-double and the Denver Nuggets tied an NBA record with 24 3-pointers while shocking the Golden State Warriors 132-110 on Monday night.

The Nuggets tied the 3-point mark set by the Rockets in December against New Orleans. They missed two 3-pointers in the final minute, and Jamal Murray passed up an uncontested 3 to dribble out the clock. They finished 24 of 40 from beyond the arc.

The Warriors were just 8 of 32 from long range, including 1 of 11 by Stephen Curry.

Jokic set career highs in rebounds (21) and assists (12) to go with 17 points, and rookie Juancho Hernangomez scored a season-high 27 points, including six 3s. Will Barton added 24 points and Jameer Nelson had 23 (see full recap).

Davis dominates late in Pelicans’ win
PHOENIX -- Anthony Davis scored six consecutive New Orleans points, the last two the go-ahead rebound basket with 40.3 seconds to play, and the Pelicans escaped with a 110-108 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.

The Suns missed three shots close to the basket in the final seconds, one by Eric Bledsoe and two by P.J. Tucker.

Davis scored 24 points, four below his season average. Jrue Holiday added 18, and Tyreke Evans and E'Twaun Moore had 15 apiece for the Pelicans, playing a night after a loss in Sacramento.

Bledsoe scored 37, the last on a 3-pointer that put the Suns ahead 108-107 with 1:12 to go.

New Orleans won the exceedingly close season series 3-1. Two games were one-pointers in overtime, the other a five-point Pelicans win (see full recap).

Hawks control overtime in win over Blazers
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 points, Dennis Schroder added 22 and the Atlanta Hawks scored the final 12 points of overtime to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 109-104 on Monday night.

Dwight Howard added 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Hawks, who won their fifth straight against the Blazers. Paul Millsap made the tying basket as time expired in regulation.

CJ McCollum had 26 points for the Blazers, who traded starting center Mason Plumlee to Denver a day earlier. Damian Lillard added 21 (see full recap).

On a circus-like night vs. Lakers, Shake Milton 'keeps it cool'

On a circus-like night vs. Lakers, Shake Milton 'keeps it cool'

The Sixers didn’t have regular starters Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson available Saturday night, turned the ball over 23 times and beat the Lakers by 17 points.

Through three quarters, their leading rebounder was second-year guard Shake Milton, who was making his first start of the season. 

The juicy story Saturday night was the matchup between LeBron James and his mentee Ben Simmons (see story). Milton slid into a supporting role without much trouble and looked like he belonged. Outside of an early bobble when Simmons found him on a backdoor cut, his pregame nerves weren’t evident.

“Big primetime game, everything like that,” Milton said. “But once the ball is tipped, you get up and down the floor one time, you’re good — it’s just basketball.”

In 25 minutes, he finished with seven points (3 of 5 shooting), three assists, a steal and nine rebounds — more than James, Anthony Davis or any Laker. What was more striking than the stats was Milton’s disposition. It was what we’ve seen when he’s had huge scoring games in the G League and when he’s been stuck on the Sixers’ bench. He stays composed and keeps things simple. 

“There is sort of like a poise, an inner peace — he plays at a non-rattled level,” Brett Brown said. “He really doesn't, to me, get rattled. He doesn't get [shaken] up.”

Milton said he’s always been like this — polished, poised, under control. 

“I think just growing up and playing through AAU and all my basketball experience, I’ve kind of always kept it cool," he said. "When you’re around guys like Ben, Tobias [Harris], Al [Horford], it gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and do what you have to do.”

The SMU product has said, fairly enough, that he thinks he has “one of the coolest names,” so that might help explain the origin story, or at least spice it up a bit.  

Regardless, he was effective Saturday night both on and off the ball, running dribble handoff actions with Simmons, getting the Australian the ball at the elbows, and setting up shop in the corners. He didn't do anything exceptional — perhaps outside of trying to stand his ground on a few occasions when James barreled toward the rim, including on the basket that put the Lakers’ star over Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list. He did a little bit of everything, though. 

With Richardson scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Harris thinks Milton is capable of showing more of what he can do now that he’s back in Brown’s rotation. 

“He’s a kid who comes in and works every single day and now he’s getting presented with an opportunity, and he did a great job at that,” Harris said. “There’s a lot more that he can do, too, that he’ll continue to build his confidence and go forward with that.”

The early stages of Milton’s NBA career have been marred by injuries. He missed summer league his rookie season because of a stress fracture in his back, broke his finger last February, sprained his ankle in summer league this year and suffered a left knee injury on Oct. 28.

It remains to be seen whether he’ll have a spot when Richardson returns, but it’s encouraging for Milton to see his work behind the scenes being rewarded. Milton’s time with the Delaware Blue Coats, his rehab and his individual workouts with player development coach Tyler Lashbrook all contributed to Brown being able to throw someone into his starting lineup who was far from overwhelmed or embarrassed in front of a national audience. 

“It’s definitely hard,” Milton said. “Everybody wants to play. You gotta take it as an opportunity to just lock in and make sure you’re on top of your stuff so that when your number is called you’re able to perform.”

He probably won’t outrebound one of the best players in NBA history again, but it seems safe to bank on Milton’s steadiness.  

On a night that sometimes felt like an evening at the circus — with swarms of media members waiting around every corner, eager to chronicle James’ every move, and a loud, passionate Wells Fargo Center crowd urging on Simmons’ aggression — a 23-year-old kept a level head. 

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LeBron James enjoying Ben Simmons' evolution

LeBron James enjoying Ben Simmons' evolution

There was a little over eight minutes left in the game. Ben Simmons was being guarded by Danny Green. There was nobody there to protect the rim as Simmons had the ball at the top of the key.

Simmons didn’t hesitate. He didn’t make a move. He simply blew by Green, used his sinewy frame to create space and then threw down a vicious two-handed dunk.

In a game matched up against his mentor LeBron James, Simmons kind of looked like … well, LeBron James in leading the Sixers to a 108-91 win over the Lakers Saturday night (see observations).

“At the end of the game, they actually came up and started guarding him,” Brett Brown said. “So I put him in a bunch of pick-and-rolls as the point guard. Put him in a lot of elbow action, offensively. And then defensively, you look at the disturbance that Matisse [Thybulle] and Ben caused. ... He was really special tonight on a very talented court.”

It would’ve been great if the Sixers just got what they did out of Simmons on the offensive end (28 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists), but he was also stellar defensively.

James had eight turnovers on the night and much of the credit for that goes to Simmons (four steals) and the rookie Thybulle (five steals). Part of the credit also has to go to Brown for his defensive strategy against James — hedging on screens and not allowing James to get mismatches.

For as unique as the pick-and-roll pairing of James and star big man Anthony Davis is, the Sixers have a unique duo to defend it in Simmons and veteran Al Horford. While both L.A. All-Stars got their numbers, they also combined for 13 turnovers and never truly got into a rhythm.

But this story is about Simmons. 

In the nine games since Joel Embiid went on the shelf, Simmons is averaging 21.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.6 steals a game. Over his last three games, he’s 21 of 29 (72.4 percent) from the line. With so much talk about his fourth-quarter scoring, he was 3 of 4 for six points and three assists in the final period Saturday.

The jump shot hasn’t come along like many hoped it would, but Simmons’ game is clearly evolving.

“I was out there at times just watching him just figuring things out, whether it’s laying it up or making the pass,” Horford said. “It’s amazing. He’s coming down the lane and it’s just like, ‘Good luck.’ He’s just playing with a lot of confidence right now, so that’s good to see.”

At practice Friday, Brown was asked how you go about slowing down James. He talked about not being able to guard him 1-on-1: “Here he comes, straight at you, good luck.”

James still got his, scoring 29 points and, in the process, passing Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Now playing for Bryant’s former team, James reminisced about how he got to know the “Black Mamba.”

Bryant is now a spectator as James passed him. James, now 35, knows he’s in the twilight of his career. Though he appears to still have elite basketball left, he spoke like a man that senses his own mortality.

While this game wasn’t a full-blown torch passing, there was a bit of that vibe as James spoke.

“It’s pretty amazing,” James said on having Bryant watching him now. “That’s pretty much how I’m going to be when I’m done playing, being able to come back and watch this beautiful game and hopefully there’s somebody still playing the game at a high level. Like the guy across the hallway, Ben Simmons, I can sit and watch him and see how much he continues to grow and watch him do what he does … he’s growing every day and it’s a pretty cool thing to see him.”

Perhaps shooting to pass James on the all-time scoring list in the future is a bit lofty, but the Sixers will take more peformances like Saturday's from Simmons in the present.

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