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LeBron James' message to media over son Bronny's NBA future: 'Let the kid be a kid'

LeBron James' message to media over son Bronny's NBA future: 'Let the kid be a kid'

28/02/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31647891

In now-deleted social media posts, LeBron James had harsh words for media speculation about son Bronny's NBA draft projection. But the Lakers star has played a role in it.



https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2024-02-27/lebron-james-bronny-nba-draft-future-usc-lakers
LeBron James a month after saying Bronny could play for Lakers right now: 'Let the kid be a kid'

LeBron James a month after saying Bronny could play for Lakers right now: 'Let the kid be a kid'

28/02/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31648148

In now-deleted social media posts, LeBron James had harsh words for media speculation about son Bronny's NBA draft projection. But the Lakers star has played a role in it.



https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2024-02-27/lebron-james-bronny-nba-draft-future-usc-lakers
Nikola Jokic on his defense after 4 steals vs. Warriors: “I think I’m not bad, not good. I’m i

SAN FRANCISCO — The cartoonish Defensive Player of the Game chain is objectively the Nuggets’ corniest tradition, a blinged-up symbol of morale and affirmation usually reserved for college football sidelines rather than NBA locker rooms. If it seems one is too many, brace for impact.

“We only travel with one. We’ve gotta change that,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after a 119-103 win over the Warriors on Sunday. “Because if we had two chains, Nikola would have gotten the other one.”

The lone chain couldn’t belong to anyone else but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his dogged efforts in trying to out-cardio Steph Curry in the half-court. But in Nikola Jokic’s trio of videogame performances since the All-Star break, his defense has stood up respectably next to his offense. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 16.7 rebounds and 15 assists on 68.7% shooting … plus three “stocks,” a combination of blocks and steals.

When he’s on the floor this season, the Nuggets are allowing 112.1 points per 100 possessions, 1.3 below their overall total as a team.

As a crowded MVP race heats up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, Jokic’s four steals against Golden State were a testament to the trickiness in evaluating his defense. He’s not always noticeably impactful — the No. 1 argument skeptics make against his annual candidacy is that he’s a liability, even — but when he’s engaged in the game plan and actively anticipating an opponent’s next move the way he does on offense, he can be a master of his role in Denver’s defensive system.

“I think I’m not bad, not good,” Jokic said Sunday at Chase Center. “I’m in the middle.”

By the same token that Jokic doesn’t dunk the basketball often, he rarely swats shots or plays above the rim defensively. Instead, the Nuggets maximize their center’s strengths by having him guard higher up against ball screens than most big men in the NBA, subsequently leaning heavily on weak-side help from Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. to contain rollers. When Jokic can play from the middle of the floor, his vision and IQ work in sync with his quick hands.

“The more he’s up in pick-and-rolls and on the ball … that’s what he’s great at,” Caldwell-Pope said recently. “Just being up. Active hands. Getting deflections when they try to make that pocket pass.”

Jokic amassed five deflections to go with his four steals in Denver’s seventh consecutive win against the Warriors. As of the 56-game mark, he was tied for eighth in the league with 2.9 per game (as many as the absurdly wingspanned Victor Wembanyama). “That speaks to activity, that speaks to a physicality, that speaks to being in that right place in the right time,” said Malone. Disrupting the pocket pass is a facet of Jokic’s innate understanding of pick-and-roll angles, the same understanding that makes his two-man game with Jamal Murray so brilliant at the other end of the floor.

It’s not Murray he’s generally teaming up with to defend the pick-and-roll, though. It’s Caldwell-Pope, who’s regularly charged with premier backcourt matchups. The experienced Caldwell-Pope is one of the best guards in the league at navigating screens. But the Nuggets have minimal off-day practice time during the season to refine two-man defensive chemistry, and Jokic and Caldwell-Pope haven’t been playing their entire careers together. So, says Caldwell-Pope, it’s a matter of “learn on the go.”

“I feel like with Jok, in a pick-and-roll with him defensively, I know he’s gonna be up,” he said. “I know he has great hands, just like I have great hands. He’s gonna try to go for the steal as well. So just us two, being in that action, it helps me out a lot. It helps him just to get back to his man and helps me stay as close as possible to my man. That’s our game plan, him being up. And it’s good for our team, for him to be up.”

Caldwell-Pope added that his individual emphasis, to hound the ball-handler through the screen while Jokic also stays up, is made easier by Jokic dropping marginally behind him and being able to see other aspects of the play unfolding. “He reads plays faster than I can sometimes,” the former Laker said.

“That’s him, to be honest,” Jokic retorted of his chemistry with Caldwell-Pope. “I’m just there to not mess up. He’s a really good defender, and I’m there to just, try to help him a little bit. As much as I can. But it’s mostly him.”

Malone places particular emphasis on the big coming up on screens against the Warriors, whose on- and off-ball actions are often predicated on freeing up Steph Curry for a 3-point attempt. Curry scored 14 points in the third quarter Sunday, but he shot 1-for-10 from 3-point range overall and scored only six points in the other three quarters combined. He turned it over three times. The Warriors did 17 times. Jokic’s active hands were clogging passing lanes.

“He’s so smart defensively,” Steve Kerr marveled.

Caldwell-Pope might be the one chasing Curry around the floor. But the way Denver defends most plays initiated by Curry requires a competent defensive big man as well. If that’s not enough to help earn Jokic a third MVP trophy, Malone will have to bring a second chain next time instead.

“You’re almost blitzing (Curry),” Malone said. “And Nikola was up every time in those pick-and-rolls to help contribute to what KCP was doing. So his engagement and his activity was off the charts.”



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/26/nikola-jokic-defense-report-pick-and-roll-steph-curry/
Nikola Jokic on his defense after 4 steals vs. Warriors: “I’m not bad, not good. I’m in the mi

SAN FRANCISCO — The cartoonish Defensive Player of the Game chain is objectively the Nuggets’ corniest tradition, a blinged-up symbol of morale and affirmation usually reserved for college football sidelines rather than NBA locker rooms. If it seems one is too many, brace for impact.

“We only travel with one. We’ve gotta change that,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after a 119-103 win over the Warriors on Sunday. “Because if we had two chains, Nikola would have gotten the other one.”

The lone chain couldn’t belong to anyone else but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his dogged efforts in trying to out-cardio Steph Curry in the half-court. But in Nikola Jokic’s trio of videogame performances since the All-Star break, his defense has stood up respectably next to his offense. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 16.7 rebounds and 15 assists on 68.7% shooting … plus three “stocks,” a combination of blocks and steals.

When he’s on the floor this season, the Nuggets are allowing 112.1 points per 100 possessions, 1.3 below their overall total as a team.

As a crowded MVP race heats up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, Jokic’s four steals against Golden State were a testament to the trickiness in evaluating his defense. He’s not always noticeably impactful — the No. 1 argument skeptics make against his annual candidacy is that he’s a liability, even — but when he’s engaged in the game plan and actively anticipating an opponent’s next move the way he does on offense, he can be a master of his role in Denver’s defensive system.

“I’m not bad, not good,” Jokic said Sunday at Chase Center. “I’m in the middle.”

By the same token that Jokic doesn’t dunk the basketball often, he rarely swats shots or plays above the rim defensively. Instead, the Nuggets maximize their center’s strengths by having him guard higher up against ball screens than most big men in the NBA, subsequently leaning heavily on weak-side help from Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. to contain rollers. When Jokic can play from the middle of the floor, his vision and IQ work in sync with his quick hands.

“The more he’s up in pick-and-rolls and on the ball … that’s what he’s great at,” Caldwell-Pope said recently. “Just being up. Active hands. Getting deflections when they try to make that pocket pass.”

Jokic amassed five deflections to go with his four steals in Denver’s seventh consecutive win against the Warriors. As of the 56-game mark, he was tied for eighth in the league with 2.9 per game (as many as the absurdly wingspanned Victor Wembanyama). “That speaks to activity, that speaks to a physicality, that speaks to being in that right place in the right time,” said Malone. Disrupting the pocket pass is a facet of Jokic’s innate understanding of pick-and-roll angles, the same understanding that makes his two-man game with Jamal Murray so brilliant at the other end of the floor.

It’s not Murray he’s generally teaming up with to defend the pick-and-roll, though. It’s Caldwell-Pope, who’s regularly charged with premier backcourt matchups. The experienced Caldwell-Pope is one of the best guards in the league at navigating screens. But the Nuggets have minimal off-day practice time during the season to refine two-man defensive chemistry, and Jokic and Caldwell-Pope haven’t been playing their entire careers together. So, says Caldwell-Pope, it’s a matter of “learn on the go.”

“I feel like with Jok, in a pick-and-roll with him defensively, I know he’s gonna be up,” he said. “I know he has great hands, just like I have great hands. He’s gonna try to go for the steal as well. So just us two, being in that action, it helps me out a lot. It helps him just to get back to his man and helps me stay as close as possible to my man. That’s our game plan, him being up. And it’s good for our team, for him to be up.”

Caldwell-Pope added that his individual emphasis, to hound the ball-handler through the screen while Jokic also stays up, is made easier by Jokic dropping marginally behind him and being able to see other aspects of the play unfolding. “He reads plays faster than I can sometimes,” the former Laker said.

“That’s him, to be honest,” Jokic retorted of his chemistry with Caldwell-Pope. “I’m just there to not mess up. He’s a really good defender, and I’m there to just, try to help him a little bit. As much as I can. But it’s mostly him.”

Malone places particular emphasis on the big coming up on screens against the Warriors, whose on- and off-ball actions are often predicated on freeing up Steph Curry for a 3-point attempt. Curry scored 14 points in the third quarter Sunday, but he shot 1-for-10 from 3-point range overall and scored only six points in the other three quarters combined. He turned it over three times. The Warriors did 17 times. Jokic’s active hands were clogging passing lanes.

“He’s so smart defensively,” Steve Kerr marveled.

Caldwell-Pope might be the one chasing Curry around the floor. But the way Denver defends most plays initiated by Curry requires a competent defensive big man as well. If that’s not enough to help earn Jokic a third MVP trophy, Malone will have to bring a second chain next time instead.

“You’re almost blitzing (Curry),” Malone said. “And Nikola was up every time in those pick-and-rolls to help contribute to what KCP was doing. So his engagement and his activity was off the charts.”



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/26/nikola-jokic-defense-report-pick-and-roll-steph-curry/
Nikola Jokic dominates as Nuggets rally for seventh consecutive win over Golden State Warriors

Nikola Jokic dominates as Nuggets rally for seventh consecutive win over Golden State Warriors

26/02/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31644507

SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe the Nuggets have bigger fish to fry than this final chunk of the regular season, like coach Michael Malone emphasized after the All-Star break. But when the defending champions encounter an opponent desperately trying to capitalize on a hot streak and climb back into contention, their natural instinct will always be to match the playoff-esque degree of competitiveness.

So when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drilled an open transition 3-pointer with seven minutes remaining in another roller coaster of a road game at Golden State, even the stoic Nikola Jokic let out an emphatic bellow from the Warriors logo at mid-court.

It was reminiscent of the reaction he had a few lumbering steps away from that spot in January when his deep 3-pointer beat the buzzer and the Warriors. He was the passer this time on Caldwell-Pope’s three, which gave Denver a 10-point lead in a stirring 119-103 grudge-match win Sunday.

Jokic amassed 32 points, 16 rebounds, 16 assists and four steals, playing through intense physicality in his first matchup this season against Draymond Green. Jamal Murray added 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting after missing the first half of this road trip and remaining questionable with tibia inflammation up until game-time Sunday.

Caldwell-Pope’s three made it 102-92. Jokic’s passion was infectious. Zeke Nnaji flexed to his bench after a chase-down block moments later, then Christian Braun replicated Jokic’s yell after his own 3-pointer extended the lead to 105-94. The Nuggets (39-19) were pulling away for their seventh consecutive win against Golden State.

The first half followed the blueprint of the Nuggets’ last Bay Area visit all the way to completion in a fraction of the time. Denver’s defensive engagement was lackluster, especially during the first few minutes of the second quarter without Jokic and Caldwell-Pope on the floor. Klay Thompson, in the middle of an emotionally tumultuous season, shot the three at a high level — 23 points on 5-of-10 outside shooting to mirror his 24-point, 4-for-10 game Jan. 4. And most vitally, just when it seemed the Nuggets were sleep-walking toward a forgettable road loss, their starters reignited the team’s engine.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, tries to get around Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, tries to get around Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

A sudden 14-0 run sent Denver into halftime tied at 61. Jokic was already within reach of another a triple-double, and Murray had climbed to 18 points after ending the first quarter with two. Inventiveness replaced lethargy; Murray at one point during the run flung an intentional missed shot at the rim in lieu of a pass upon spotting Jokic’s positioning under the basket. Jokic and Caldwell-Pope blitzed Curry on a ball-screen to pick his pocket as time expired, accentuating Curry’s four-point half without a made three.

But this rematch still had more chapters to get through. Jokic and Murray led the Nuggets on another 14-0 run minutes into the third quarter to open their down double-digit lead. Golden State swiftly negated that in the third despite Thompson not scoring any more. Curry replaced his production with a 14-point frame. But Jokic comfortably had a triple-double before the fourth quarter — for the third straight game.

And Malone, hoping to avoid the same result from Jokic’s previous rest minutes, got creative with his lineups. The version of the second unit that opened the fourth quarter after Jokic played the entire third: Murray, Reggie Jackson, Michael Porter Jr., Nnaji and Aaron Gordon. Braun was the first to check in, replacing Jackson. Both Braun and Nnaji supplied big plays down the stretch, combining for 13 points and six rebounds.

Want more Nuggets news? Sign up for the Nuggets Insider to get all our NBA analysis.



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/25/nikola-jokic-nuggets-warriors-win-streak-seven/
Nuggets Journal: Why transition offense is focal point entering home stretch of regular season: “A

When coaches such as Michael Malone grouse about the erosion of defense in the NBA, it might sound like nothing more than curmudgeonly distaste. But they’re not off-base.

“There is no defense in the NBA right now,” Malone said recently after 70-point games from Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic.

The Denver Nuggets finished the 2022-23 regular season second in the Western Conference and fifth in the league with an offensive rating of 116.8, good enough to buoy them to a No. 1 seed and eventual NBA championship.

As they returned from the All-Star break this week, the Nuggets had a 117.1 offensive rating, which would have been third in the league last season. But that’s the past. In 2023-24, Denver’s per-100-possessions efficiency ranked 13th entering the home stretch, and seventh in the crowded West.

It’s not that Denver has gotten any worse at scoring this year. It’s that everyone else has gotten better at it.

Those analytics are indicative of the struggle in the standings. Unlike last year, when the Nuggets coasted to home-court advantage in the West, they’re trapped in a game of musical chairs for the top four seeds entering the last third of the regular season.

As much as staying the course with an identical starting five to last season has been by design, the stats relative to the other 29 teams are what matter. The 2022-23 Nuggets were already a bit of an anomaly. They were the first team since the 2010-11 Mavericks to win the championship despite finishing outside the top five in net rating for the regular season. Dallas was eighth with a 4.4 net. Denver was sixth at 3.3 — but that was at least second-best in the West by a substantial margin. This time around, the Nuggets’ 3.3 net rating at the break was tied for ninth in the NBA and fifth in the West.

How can they elevate that ranking before time runs out? Well, at the risk of sounding reductive: Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets are widely regarded as an offense-first team that plays its best defense when it matters most, so the obvious place to start the search for improvements should be at the offensive end. (And defense is too obsolete to move the needle in today’s NBA landscape anyway, right?)

The mission: score at a more commensurate rate with the rest of the league. The specific focal point: transition.

It’s a baffling area of regression. So when the Nuggets assembled for their first practice out of the All-Star break Tuesday, they spent time on fast-break fundamentals.

“Just not being efficient enough, whether it’s missing — we do a poor job finishing at times — and then obviously costly turnovers where we’re just not even getting a shot up,” Malone said. “So (we’re) just working on some 2-v-1 situations, 3-v-2. Advantaged breaks where we have to capitalize and score. At least get a shot up. There have been too many times when we come down in transition and have the advantage, and we don’t even get a shot up, and then we ignite their break.”

Denver tied for the league lead in transition efficiency last season with 1.21 points per possession. The champions were 10th in transition possessions per game and eighth in transition frequency. They were tops in effective field goal percentage on the break (66.2%) despite ranking fifth-lowest in shooting foul frequency in those scenarios.

The difference this year has been staggering. The Nuggets went into the break tied for the second-worst transition offense (1.07 points per possession, deadlocked with their recent NBA Finals opponent, Miami). It’s impacting the regularity with which they push the pace. As they practiced those man-advantage situations, they had the fifth-lowest frequency and fourth-fewest transition possessions per game. Their shooting foul frequency is identical to last year’s, but their effective field goal percentage is down to 58.2% (25th).

Reliance on the half-court offense doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Games tend to slow down during the playoffs, and the Nuggets are as unstoppable as anyone at generating open shots in the half-court when Jokic is on the floor. But Jokic also relishes opportunities to jump-start fast breaks with long outlet passes because, as he explains it, those passes can result in the easiest type of basket. A team that has succeeded at playing up-tempo basketball as much as Denver has in the past should be able to turn those easy baskets into easy points.

One hindrance is that going into the break, Jokic had the highest turnover percentage in transition (27.3%) of any individual with 65 or more transition possessions. (He had 88). Turnovers are always a risk with his style — the Nuggets understand and even embrace that reality — but Jokic’s passes in transition haven’t connected as cleanly as last year, when he had a 21.3% rate in twice as many possessions.

Still, that’s not the most pressing issue. Denver generally wants its second unit to get out and run more often than the starters. That’s meant to be how the bench can create its best scoring opportunities when Jokic isn’t on the floor.

Finishing has been lackluster. Christian Braun shoots at an eFG% of 52% in transition. Reggie Jackson’s is 52.6%. Jamal Murray’s is 53%. Those are Denver’s three players with the lowest individual turnover rates in transition (minimum 65 possessions), but their effective field goal percentages are three of the 25 worst in the league. On the other side, the Nuggets who make their shots more — Jokic, Aaron Gordon, Peyton Watson — are also the ones who turn it over the most.

“I think that for me, it’s just about slowing down, taking my time,” Watson said. “I feel like at the beginning, I was kind of pressing a little bit. I was like, I have to run that much faster than everybody else. Now I realize that I’m pretty fast when I’m not even running that fast. So I need to slow down, calm down and just stay composed.”

In 2022-23, the last month of the regular season was the only time the Nuggets seemed to lose composure. They still managed to protect the top seed, then roll through the playoffs. In their title defense, they have far less breathing room entering a home stretch with seeding on the line, not just physical preservation.

They can still succeed at both areas of emphasis. Better start by taking advantage of the easy scoring chances.

Want more Nuggets news? Sign up for the Nuggets Insider to get all our NBA analysis.



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/25/denver-nuggets-transition-stats-offense-turnovers/
Frida Formann pursuing excellence with CU Buffs women’s basketball

Frida Formann pursuing excellence with CU Buffs women’s basketball

25/02/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31642205

Years ago, while growing up in Denmark, Frida Formann was playing basketball with her older brother when the topic of shooting fundamentals came up.

“He showed me this video of these people saying, ‘Oh you have to jump and land in the same place,’ and all this stuff that’s like the classical things – and then showing all these great NBA shooters who don’t shoot like that at all,” Formann, a senior guard for the Colorado women’s basketball team, said. “If it feels comfortable for you to shoot the way you do and it goes in, then do that.”

Formann’s always had her own style – her feet scissor while she’s in the air, with the right foot landing in front of the left – because it’s comfortable. And it’s worked to the point that Formann is on the verge of becoming CU’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made, while also being one of the most accurate shooters in program history.

Heading in CU’s matchup at No. 12 UCLA on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN2), Formann is third on the Buffs’ all-time list with 242 made 3s, just 15 behind Bianca Smith (257 from 2006-10) and 10 behind current assistant coach Shelley Sheetz (252 from 1991-95).

By the time the 11th-ranked Buffaloes are done this season, Formann could very well be on top of that list, although it’s never been a record she has pursued.

“Once it started getting talked about and I was like top five I was like, ‘Oh, I can probably break that,’” said Formann, who is fifth in program history in 3-point percentage (.375), just behind Sheetz (.381), who is fourth. “But I just always thought that would come naturally and not like a thing that I’m chasing. That’s my job is to make 3s so I would think that if I keep doing that, it would come naturally.”

It has come naturally because she doesn’t cut corners in the pursuit of individual and team excellence.

Colorado guard Frida Formann fires up a three against Cal during the California and Colorado NCAA womenxe2x80x99s game in Boulder on Jan. 12, 2024.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado guard Frida Formann fires up a three against Cal during the California and Colorado NCAA womenxe2x80x99s game in Boulder on Jan. 12, 2024.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“It’s really cool to have a front row seat watching Frida,” Sheetz said. “I see her work ethic. I see her getting extra shots up. I see her being a student of the game.

“I think something that’s taken for granted in Frida is Frida’s basketball IQ. The kid’s phenomenal in her basketball IQ, but her work ethic is at that same level. … She is reaping the benefits of her work.”

Formann’s sophomore year played a key role in that development.

As a freshman, she averaged 12.4 points and 3.0 rebounds and posted the 10th-best single-season 3-point percentage in CU history (.408). As a sophomore, however, she dipped to 7.5 points per game and didn’t shoot well (.272 beyond the arc).

In two seasons since, Formann has not only regained her scoring touch, but developed into a much better all-around player.

CU’s third-leading scorer (12.8 points per game) this season, Formann is also third in assists (2.4), averages 1.2 steals per game and has developed into a good defender. She also has the second-best career free throw percentage in CU history, at .851, behind Fagan (.861) and just ahead of Sheetz (.848).

“She does a lot of other things that are also very impactful that have nothing to do with shooting or making 3s,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “I think it takes a lot of maturity, especially when you’ve been a scorer and you’re a great shooter. Your identity can be tied up in that pretty quickly if you’re not very smart, but she’s very smart, so she was able to work through that.”

Getting past the sophomore slump was a process that included engaging with people through struggles rather than internalizing them, and Formann said that season has fueled her success the past two years.

“It’s made me mature a lot just in my approach and has kind of, I think, molded me into what type of leader I am, too, and what I emphasize,” she said. “I also think it just taught me that you can have bad games and people can say you’re in a slump or whatever, but you still got to show up every day. Every game is a new opportunity.”

A new opportunity awaits Formann and the Buffs on Monday as they try to snap a three-game losing streak when they visit UCLA. Odds are that Formann will inch closer to the 3-point record, but it’s hardly her focus.

Nearly 30 years after her CU career came to a close, Sheetz said she remembers the team success far more than her individual numbers. Formann has the same perspective as she strives not to be the all-time leader in 3-pointers, but to be the best leader possible for a squad heading for a third straight NCAA Tournament.

“(Breaking the 3-point record) is something that’s like, ‘That would be cool to do,’” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have a legacy more of just in terms of who I am and how people remember interacting with me as a teammate and as a player. So hopefully that comes before any numbers.”



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/24/frida-formann-pursuing-excellence-with-cu-buffs-womens-basketball/
Bill Walton is becoming Nikola Jokic’s biggest fan, and he’s tired of reductive superlatives: ?

PORTLAND, Ore. — Nikola Jokic was in a rush to leave the building last Sunday after his sixth All-Star Game. His abbreviated version of a break was finally about to begin. But he made time for one of his biggest fans.

In the hallways beneath Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Jokic stopped to dap up Hall of Famer Bill Walton. The day before, during a public practice, Walton had sought out Jokic on the sideline to chat. Their interactions at All-Star weekend are becoming something of an annual tradition by now.

“Big man to big man,” Jokic said.

What does the 71-year-old Walton tell the Nuggets big man?

The same stuff he eagerly tells everyone else who’ll listen.

“His celebration of life through basketball, his focus on the team … he’s better than perfect. He’s Nikola Jokic,” Walton told The Denver Post. “He’s the best player in the world. I watch a lot of Denver Nuggets basketball, and every time I watch, I just get a smile on my face. It’s fantastic.”

Walton, a winner of two championships and an MVP during his celebrated but injury-shortened career, has long remained a fixture of the college and professional basketball communities. He is famous for his out-there analogies and asides while providing enthusiastic color commentary of Pac-12 games for ESPN, but he is especially moved by Jokic — so much that he’s practically a spokesman for the Serbian center. In the last year, he has raved about Jokic everywhere from The Pat McAfee Show to The New Yorker.

The admiration runs so deep that Walton needs to share it with Jokic directly, whenever possible. Whenever they’re face-to-face.

“Joy and happiness. And hope. And optimism. And purpose,” Walton said. “He plays with purpose. He plays to win the games. And he does it with beautiful style, grace, dignity, professionalism. Nikola Jokic represents the conquest of substance over hype.”

“He just told me (his) appreciation. Nice things about me,” Jokic told The Post. “I really appreciate it. Just a nice thing when a legend can talk to you. I think it’s amazing.”

As minor as their interactions might be, they’re also a window into a side of Jokic that is seldom highlighted: his respect for NBA history, particularly the Hall of Famers who dominated at the center position in the generations before him. Over the years, he has developed a mutually appreciative on-air relationship with Shaquille O’Neal, who attempts to say something in Serbian every time Jokic joins TNT’s Inside the NBA for a postgame interview.

Jokic has also grown increasingly introspective about his All-Star appearances. He said after making the team this season, “I will say to the guys in the locker room when I go there, it’s always a pleasure to be around them, in that group of people. It’s an honor and a legacy that me or the guys over there are going to appreciate when we’ve finished (our) career.”

Speaking of legacy: There’s a point Walton wants to make about Jokic’s.

Presented with the common notion that Jokic is one of the greatest passing big men of all time, Walton scoffed.

“He’s one of the great basketball players ever,” he said. “It’s a disservice to (Jokic) to limit him. He’s an incredible scorer. He’s a fantastic rebounder. He’s an incredible passer. He’s an incredible teammate. He has it all. Don’t try to limit him. Don’t try to box him in. Because with Nikola Jokic, there are no limits.”

Jokic emerged from his break (or lack thereof) by earning triple-doubles by the end of the third quarter in back-to-back games. He has shot 81.5% from the field in consecutive wins (including one over Walton’s Trail Blazers), averaging 25 points, 17 rebounds and 14.5 assists. He’s up to 122 career triple-doubles entering Sunday’s clash with Golden State.

And the Nuggets (38-19) are back within 1.5 games of first place in the West.

Consider Walton along for the ride from afar.

“You have the best basketball player in the world on your team, you’ve got an incredible fanbase, you’ve got a fantastic city, a great state, great community, great ownership in the Kroenke family,” he said. “And it’s a wonderful scenario.

“It’s a privileged opportunity to be a part of it as a fan and to see what (Jokic) and the team mean to the game of basketball. Because this team will inspire new generations of fans, of players, of business opportunities, of realization what a special place Colorado and Denver are. You know, Colorado, it’s the launching pad to the universe.”

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https://www.denverpost.com/2024/02/24/bill-walton-nikola-jokic-greatest-basketball-players-ever/
Letters to Sports: Motivate NBA All-Stars to win with a cool half million

Letters to Sports: Motivate NBA All-Stars to win with a cool half million

24/02/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31641177

Readers of the Los Angeles Times Sports section share their thoughts on the NBA All-Star Game, Shohei Ohtani, Matt Barnes and Trevor Bauer.



https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2024-02-24/letters-sports-nba-all-star-shohei-ohtani
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