Divine nine: Guys who may reshape playoff picture

Divine nine: Guys who may reshape playoff picture

highly combustible chemistry experiment in Philadelphia, on another team falling well short of expectations. The jokes that he is the root cause come easy, but Horford is a pro’s pro. He executes his role to the best of his ability.’ data-reactid=”47″>So, he jumped ship to the Sixers for $100 million and a chance to win alongside rising stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Instead, he finds himself inside another highly combustible chemistry experiment in Philadelphia, on another team falling well short of expectations. The jokes that he is the root cause come easy, but Horford is a pro’s pro. He executes his role to the best of his ability.

or slimming) into form after a fat flat start, and Murray has bounced back from a nasty ankle injury. With them at the helm and a deep roster to make the regular-season ride a little smoother, Denver is back riding shotgun as the No. 2 seed, but the Western Conference playoffs are a different animal.’ data-reactid=”83″>The Nuggets needed the best out of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray against the Portland Trail Blazers last season, and it still was not enough to survive the second round. Jokic is rounding (or slimming) into form after a fat flat start, and Murray has bounced back from a nasty ankle injury. With them at the helm and a deep roster to make the regular-season ride a little smoother, Denver is back riding shotgun as the No. 2 seed, but the Western Conference playoffs are a different animal.

The Nuggets sure could use a third threat to run their offense through, especially on the nights when Murray does not have it, and Gary Harris has not been that guy for two years now. Enter Porter, the former top high school prospect whose back problems caused him to fall to Denver in the draft and sit all of last season. Nuggets coach Mike Malone has eased him into action this season, but perhaps it is time to unleash him, at least once Porter’s right ankle heals.

We have seen flashes of what made Porter such an intriguing prospect. He can score from every level and reads the game well on both ends. There will be rookie mistakes and defensive lapses, to be sure, but there is a real chance for growth over the next two months. Porter has played 20 or more minutes just 15 times. In those games, he is averaging 14.7 points (on 55/51/81 shooting splits), 7.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 combined blocks and steals in just 24 minutes of action.

Call me crazy, but that seems like a guy you might want to see more of down the stretch.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers

Morris was the best player on a dreadful New York Knicks team, shooting 44 percent on six 3-point attempts per game en route to 20 points a night, if only because somebody had to score. And Morris is not shy about filling that void. He can be a ball stopper, but the Clippers need him to be anything but if they want to work in a rotation with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams.

Morris has also filled the role the Clips will be asking of him, playing physical defense, ruffling feathers, spacing the floor and serving as an emergency option when plays break down. He was all that and more for the Celtics team that came within six minutes of the 2018 Finals. That was a young roster that needed his guidance and guile in big moments, and these Clippers are not that.

How quickly he adjusts from headliner to supporting actor in L.A. will go a long way in determining how dominant the Clips can be. Same goes for how infrequently Morris takes possessions away from Leonard, George and Williams. The potential for that group — with Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson rounding out a rotation — is frightening, and Morris holds the key to the Clippers’ best lineups, big and small, offensively and defensively.

Will the All-Star break disrupt Mike Conley’s resurgence? (Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

Looking back on Utah’s trade for Conley, it actually surprised me how much the Jazz gave up for the 32-year-old point guard. They traded what amounts to three first-round picks — Grayson Allen (the No. 21 pick in 2018 and admittedly no longer considered a first-round talent), the 2019 pick that the Memphis Grizzlies turned into Brandon Clarke and their protected 2020 pick — along with Jae Crowder, whom the Grizz just swung in a package to land Justise Winslow. Hindsight is 20/20.

Conley will try not to look back. He has had a dreadful start to his Jazz tenure. Utah’s championship hopes rest on the possibility of his premier backcourt partnership with Donovan Mitchell, but Conley’s shooting woes and injury concerns have yet to meld their abilities to play off each other.

according to Cleaning the Glass, so betting on that lineup is a sound proposition. But betting your season on one man being able to hold up against an assembly line of bigs six inches taller for 40 minutes a night in the playoffs seems like a long shot. Houston is letting it ride on whether Tucker can withstand the pounding that is surely coming for him.’ data-reactid=”119″>The Rockets have outscored opponents by six points per 100 possessions with Tucker manning the center position this season, according to Cleaning the Glass, so betting on that lineup is a sound proposition. But betting your season on one man being able to hold up against an assembly line of bigs six inches taller for 40 minutes a night in the playoffs seems like a long shot. Houston is letting it ride on whether Tucker can withstand the pounding that is surely coming for him.