The NBA announced its final major individual award of the season Friday, and Giannis Antetokounmp winning his second straight Most Valuable Player award came as no surprise to anyone. However, what was a surprise to some was the margin by which he won. Also of note Friday was an important injury update for the Celtics, and the Lakers taking care of the Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
-- Giannis wins MVP for second consecutive season
The Bucks star forward won by a comfortable margin, as Antetokounmpo received 85 of a possible 101 first-place votes. LeBron James received the other 16 and finished second, and after Friday's win over the Nuggets he expressed his displeasure with the voting but had no issue with the winner.
"It pissed me off. That’s my true answer... Out of 101 votes I got 16 first place votes," James said. "That’s what pissed me off more than anything... Not saying the winner wasn’t deserving." Good luck dealing with an angry James, Denver.
James Harden, Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard rounded out the top five, with Anthony Davis finishing sixth. With the award Antetokounmpo becomes the third player in NBA history to pull off the MVP/Defensive Player of the Year double in the same season, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
-- Gordon Hayward (ankle) questionable for Game 3
While some focused on what happened in the Celtics locker room after their Game 2 loss to the Heat, there was an important development on the injury front. Hayward, who hasn't appeared in a game since he suffered a Grade 3 sprain of his right ankle in Boston's postseason opener against the 76ers, has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday's game against the Heat.
Whether or not the Celtics' starting forward is cleared will likely be a game-time decision, and it's likely that Hayward would be on a minutes restriction give how long he's been out. But Boston could certainly use his versatility, as it gives them another capable scoring option. The Celtics were a bit stagnant offensively down the stretch in the first two games of the series, a big reason why they find themselves in an 0-2 hole. Javonte Green (knee) is listed as probable and Romeo Langford (adductor) is out, but neither is a factor in the team's rotation.
For Miami, Andre Iguodala (back spasms) is listed as probable so expect him to be out there in some capacity. Not having him would hurt the Heat, but his absence isn't something that they're incapable of accounting for. Derrick Jones Jr. could take on a few more minutes off the bench, but if anything Iguodala's minutes would be divided amongst the wings already logging major minutes.
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Lakers 126, Nuggets 114 (Los Angeles leads, 1-0)
The Western Conference Finals finally got underway Friday night, and the game wasn't as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. How the Lakers would go about defending Nikola Jokic was a major point of conversation ahead of Game 1, with Frank Vogel saying that as many as four players would see time at the center position.
JaVale McGee was back in the starting lineup and played the first six minutes before heading to the bench with two fouls. He wouldn't see the court again until the outcome was essentially decided, going scoreless and blocking one shot in 11 minutes. A big reason why Vogel didn't have to go back to McGee until late was the play of Dwight Howard, who in 16 minutes chipped in with 13 points (4-of-5 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), three rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots. This wasn't a vintage Howard performance, but he was certainly impactful on both ends of the floor.
Also seeing time at center were the aforementionEd Davis and Markieff Morris, who logged 15 and six minutes at the five, respectively. Davis was dominant in Game 1, going off for 37 points (12-of-21 FGs, 12-of-15 FTs), 10 rebounds, four assists and one 3-pointer in 33 minutes. With that line he became the first Laker to go for 35 & 10 in a Western Conference Finals game since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002. Morris played 16 minutes off the bench, tallying nine points, one rebound, one assist, two steals and three 3-pointers.
Jokic didn't necessarily have a bad night, as he did finish with 21 points (8-of-14 FGs, 5-of-7 FTs), six rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot. But he was left frustrated by both foul trouble, as he had three in the first quarter alone, and at times Howard. And after watching the Lakers march to the foul line in the second quarter, as they attempted 25 free throws, Jokic wasn't the only one a bit peeved by the calls.
The All-NBA center got a taste of what's to come with regard to how the Lakers will attempt to defend him, and I expect him to bounce back Sunday night.
Mike Malone did not play either of his stars in the fourth as the Nuggets trailed by 24 entering the quarter, with Jamal Murray (21/1/5 with three 3-pointers in 29 minutes) joining Jokic on the bench.
Michael Porter Jr. was Denver's only other double-digit scorer, as he pumped in 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 29 minutes off the bench. His scoring ability will be key in this series, so even with the occasional defensive lapse MPJ is going to have to play. But there isn't much that the Nuggets can do when starters Gary Harris, Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap combine to shoot 7-of-23 from the field as they did in Game 1.
Going back to the Lakers, Rajon Rondo (back spasms) was able to play 22 minutes off the bench and chip in with seven points, one rebound, nine assists, two steals and one 3-pointer. Only James (15 points, six rebounds and 12 assists) had more helpers on the night than the veteran point guard, who has given the Lakers' second unit a welcome boost upon his return. Rondo also moved into tenth on the NBA's career playoff assists list, surpassing Michael Jordan.
Kyle Kuzma (11 points, four rebounds and one 3-pointer) had a solid night off the bench, but it's been difficult for him to be a consistent high-level scorer in that role. I'm wondering if this leads to his being a bit undervalued fantasy-wise heading into next season.