NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: So these are the Nuggets? — The Nuggets had an offseason that everyone in Denver would just as soon forget. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, left for Toronto, their Coach of the Year, George Karl, was fired. And the only thing that was worse than that offseason was … well, the regular season. The once high-flying Nuggets are out of the playoff picture a year after winning 57 games. It hasn’t been pretty.
But after their big win over the Clippers Monday night, a win which snapped Los Angeles’ 11-game winning streak, the Nuggets were left to think about what might have been. From Christopher Dempsey at the Denver Post:
But the Nuggets have found a way to play a better brand of basketball this month. They’re 5-5 in March after losing all but three of their 12 games in February. The Clippers had won 11 straight games before the Nuggets took them down, powered by a 14-2 run to end the game.
“You look at it, we shot ourselves in the foot a lot this season,” guard Randy Foye said. “Had a lot of injuries. But everything happens for a reason.”
“We’d definitely be in the playoffs right now if we took care of the Sacramentos and the Minnesotas of the league,” Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said. “We definitely could be in playoff position. It’s a little bit frustrating.”
Because the Nuggets aren’t in playoff position, the finish of the season is getting acute attention. There are things the Nuggets want to accomplish in the final month of the regular season, which for them will end on April 16.
Topping that list is carving out an idea of exactly what kind of team they will be in the future.
“I think we’re playing better,” Lawson said. “We’re starting to find ourselves a little bit better, doing exactly what coach wants. I think we’re gaining a little bit of steam, giving ourselves an identity.”
VIDEO: Nuggets end Clippers’ streak
No. 2: Matt the man — The Clippers may have an L1 next to their line in the daily standings, but there’s not a team in the league that doesn’t realize how good this team is and how good it can be come playoff time.
That’s been the case for a while, now. The big difference lately. Well, to hear Dan Woike of the Orange County Register tell, it, it had to do with a key decision — of many he makes all the time — by coach Doc Rivers:
On Jan. 20, Rivers made one of those decisions, moving Matt Barnes into the stating lineup for Jared Dudley. Since then, the Clippers have gone 20-6.
“I thought his energy matched that group better,” Rivers said Monday. “Matt’s defense has really improved as the year has gone on, and that’s really helped that unit.”
Before the Clippers’ game with the Nuggets, Barnes was a part of the top two five-man lineups in terms of net efficiency, with a minimum of 150 minutes played.
In those 26 games, Barnes is averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. As a starter, Barnes is hitting 40.3 percent from 3-point range compared to just 26.6 percent from deep in the 23 games he came off the bench.
A key to that has been Barnes getting to the deep corners in transition, spotting up for the highest-percentage 3 on the floor while opening driving lanes for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
“You just want to create space,” Barnes said.
Barnes said adjusting to playing with the starters hasn’t been too difficult.
“Defensively, it’s always been easy for me, no matter what group I’m playing with. I think offensively, there’s so much attention paid to Blake and Chris that if you find space and keep the floor spaced, you’re going to find open shots,” he said. “They’re trapped and doubled a lot. If you make yourself available and cut, passers are going to find you.”
No. 3: Thibodeau gets all philosophical on us — Few teams in the Association follow the lead of their coach more than the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a demanding, defense-first mastermind who has an injury-riddled team playing some of its best basketball of the season.
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson caught up with Thibs to ask him how he has taken the Bulls, a team that has had so much going against it this season, to the point where no one wants to go against them in the playoffs:
What do you believe in the most?
For me, there’s five things I look at after every game. It’s the defense, the rebounding, low turnovers. I think those three things put you in position to win. Then its inside-out and sharing the ball. So it’s five-man offense, five-man defense. Make a commitment to one another and be balanced.
Is this basketball we’re talking about or life?
[Laughs] Well, basketball is really a microcosm of life. There’s a lot of things you can take from this game and learn. And a lot of lessons from basketball that you can apply to life and certainly a lot of things that you can take from life and apply to basketball. Adversity. Hey look, you are going to face it in life. Being mentally tough when you face adversity, I think, whether you face it in life or basketball, it’s similar.
But if you have that balance in both, it applies the same?
Yeah, yeah. As it applies to us, we feel good about our team. We love the challenge. And at the end of the day, it’s what we think, it’s what we believe. And whatever that is, we’re probably right.
No. 4: Moral: Don’t go to sleep on Cubes – The Mavericks seem to have awakened from their slumber. They’re a solid-14-6 since a yawning 9-8 in January, they’re on track for a 50-win season, they’ve won three in a row (including a stomping of Oklahoma City the other night) and they’ve climbed to within a game of sixth-seeded Golden State.
We’re not saying this is all the doing of Dirk Nowitzki or owner Mark Cuban. But Cuban may have had something to do with it, according to Dwain Price of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:
Cuban took time before Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics to tell the media of a conversation he had with Nowitzki earlier in the day. It’s about as critical as Cuban as ever publicly been about Nowitzki.
“I think sometimes he loses concentration, and I think we’ve got to get past that,” Cuban said. “I mentioned it to him today. I asked him how his nap was during the game [Sunday at Oklahoma City]. He laughed. At least that’s while I was facing him. When I turned my back and walked away, I don’t know.”
Nowitzki had two first-quarter rebounds against the Thunder and finished the game with just four boards and 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Cuban also was none too pleased that Nowitzki had just 12 points and six rebounds during last Tuesday’s 108-85 loss on the road to the Golden State Warriors.
Asked why he was publicly challenging Nowitzki, Cuban said: “That’s only because I did it already personally.”
“Dirk always goes through a little slump during the year where he needs to remotivate. And I think we’ve seen that for a couple of games, and I think he’s going to come back stronger, particularly after three days and those naps he’s gotten through the last couple of games.”
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