A look at what’s trending this week in the NBA:
Good as gold
Even when Denver center Nikola Jokic has a clunker, he is fantastic.
Jokic thrust the Nuggets back into the playoff picture during a 14-game stretch in which he averaged 24.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 56.4% from the field and 50.8% from the three-point arc. He shot six for 20 on Thursday and still was marvelous, recording 16 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists for a pivotal Denver win at Minnesota to put the Nuggets in control of their playoff destiny.
Despite not having Gary Harris for the last three weeks, Denver has set up a scenario in which it could play Wednesday at Minnesota for the Western Conference’s final spot.
With Paul Millsap back from a wrist injury, the Nuggets have an arsenal of five 15-point scorers that has posted a series of tight wins. Jokic became Denver’s efficient go-to player and adds elite big-man passing but Millsap is the All-Star who lifts the defense with Wilson Chandler and carries the offense at times, like his 36-point game at Oklahoma City nine days ago.
The Nuggets had to get back in the race the hard way, facing eight consecutive teams with winning records and beating six of them, including a 134-115 victory Saturday against the Clippers at Staples Center. Regardless of how this finishes, Denver found its future with Jokic, who is 23, and a budding backcourt of Jamal Murray and Harris, who are 21 and 23, respectively, under a quality head coach in Michael Malone, who many thought was wrongly fired in Sacramento.
KO for KI, Celtics
With Thursday’s news that Kyrie Irving will be out for the playoffs because of another knee surgery, the Celtics’ recent track record shows they might not be as vulnerable as perceived.
Boston had a torrid streak with signature road wins to build a winning percentage without Irving that nearly matches the one with him. The Celtics lean on a league-leading defense and a top-notch coach, Brad Stevens, but also must now rely on rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year player Jaylen Brown to step up offensively.
The Celtics have been a bottom-five offense without Irving but Brown and Marcus Morris have led the team’s three-point shooting improvement and the Celtics still have an All-Star leader in Al Horford.
Skip to their Lue
Cleveland went 8-1 while head coach Tyronn Lue was out for health reasons related to chest pains that forced him to leave a game March 17.
His lead assistant, Larry Drew, has been 10-1 at the helm of Cleveland this season with the inclusion of finishing that win against the Bulls and a December game in which he filled in for Lue.
Drew, 60, was the ideal candidate to lead just as Cleveland had dropped to fourth place amid a slew of injuries. He has been an NBA head coach twice and has coaching experience with legends Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Lue returned Thursday to a seamless operation in which Drew, who coached Lue as a player on three stops, acted as an extension of the head coach.
Odom to open Rich Soil
Former Clippers and Lakers player Lamar Odom will be a partner in a new business, Rich Soil Organics, that will sell marijuana-based products that purport to address depression, stress, anxiety and physical issues. The business is expected to begin operation by late June.
“While going through rehab, I discovered certain strains that support wellness,” Odom said in a news release. “So I decided to team up with Camp Green, a company that supplies organically grown, pesticide-free cannabis.”
— Cleveland’s LeBron James set an NBA record for leading a team in points and assists when he did it for the 25th consecutive time Thursday, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The previous record of 24 was set by Nate Archibald, but that streak spanned two seasons (1971-72 and 1972-73).
— Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook entered Saturday needing 41 rebounds in his final three games to average a triple-double for the season. After setting the single-season triple-double record with 42 last year, this season’s tally of 24 entering Saturday still ranks sixth all-time.
— Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons has averaged 14.4 points, 11.1 assists and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 60.4% from the field during the 76ers’ 13-game winning streak.
— Phoenix is last in the NBA for points scored per possession and points allowed per possession.
— Miami’s Wayne Ellington set the NBA single-season record for three-pointers by a reserve when he made his 207th on Wednesday. He is averaging a career-high 11 points in his second season for Miami, his seventh NBA team.
Milwaukee at Philadelphia, Wednesday at 5 p.m. PDT. TV: ESPN.
The season’s final day will have playoff seeding implications and perhaps decide who makes the playoffs in the West. Denver’s game at Minnesota is a potential NBATV addition, especially if the teams are tied for eighth place and Jimmy Butler is back. This Bucks-76ers game also has weight, especially with Milwaukee, Washington and Atlanta perhaps preferring to face No. 2 Boston, without Kyrie Irving, over No. 1 Toronto or the No. 3 seed of either Cleveland or Philadelphia. The Bucks have not won three in a row since early February and fell at home Thursday to Brooklyn. The 76ers remained the NBA’s hottest team even after Joel Embiid went out after sustaining a concussion and orbital fracture.