HANG TIME, Texas — So now the question becomes just how far the Nuggets can drive their Playoff Express without the spark plug?
A short time before Denver rang up its 50th win for the fifth consecutive full NBA season, the best little Western Conference team without a superstar got the bad news that the nagging injury to point guard Ty Lawson is a torn plantar fascia.
Just when it was looking like the Nuggets could make more noise than a firecracker in the silverware drawer of the playoffs comes the bad news.
Originally diagnosed more than a week ago as a heel strain/contusion that would have him back in the lineup shortly, Lawson’s status for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs is now a huge question.
Surgery isn’t needed. The docs in Denver are saying rest and ice. But a torn plantar fascia is the injury that kept the Lakers’ Pau Gasol on the sidelines for just over six weeks.
That puts coach George Karl in a spot without his leader in minutes (34.8), points (16.7) and assists (6.9) per game as the Nuggets try to stay ahead of the Clippers and Memphis for the No. 3 slot in the West playoffs.
According to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, there is no timetable for Lawson’s return and Karl appears almost eager to assume the challenge of piecing all of this together, game by game, until his backcourt star returns.
“So many things come into my thought process,” Karl said. “I told my coaches, last night it was Iguodala, (Friday morning) it was (Evan) Fornier. The guy that I think probably is playing as well as any of those guys is Anthony Randolph. I could play really big for a period of time, playing Anthony at the four with Wilson (Chandler) at the three and A.I. and Corey (Brewer) in the backcourt. That doesn’t give you a really great playmaking team, but you’re athletic, you can run, you can do some things defensively.
“To me it’s flow and pace. It has nothing to do about are we capable of playing basketball. We’re going to be capable of playing basketball. I just don’t know how much rhythm and flow, and the pace.”
On Friday night, the Nuggets got 17 points out of the rookie Fournier in Lawson’s place in thumping the Nets, while Karl also used Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari at the point.
While there’s no doubt that Karl can keep juggling his lineup and the Nuggets can play effectively enough at home, where they’ve won 18 straight, to finish up the regular season, there’s no doubt they need Lawson’s raw speed and slashing ability if they’re going to the wild card that makes noise in the playoffs.
Back in 1985, give or take a generation depending on what year was dialed in, Doc Brown retro-fitted a campy DeLorean with a few spare parts he had around his workshop and spawned an entire time-traveling series of Hollywood comedies.
Nearly 30 years later, Denver Nuggets VP of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has cobbled together a roster largely out of spare parts, discards and items from the NBA’s great cutout bin and essentially made time stand still. As in another multiplex favorite, the one with Bill Murray and the rodent in which every day and night ends up the same: Win, win, win, win …
Consider the two hottest teams in The Association at the moment and how they came to be. The Miami Heat, aiming for their 26th consecutive victory Sunday evening against Charlotte, were conceived in a lightning bolt and thunderclap moment of AAU-comes-to-NBA inspiration, the brainstorm of the three key Hall of Fame-caliber players involved. Then there are the Nuggets.
Denver, which extended its lower profile winning streak to 15 games Saturday night, have made do – and made dangerous – with far more humble pieces than the crew in south Florida. At the risk of putting a silly “NBA.com has learned…” spin on something that’s been hiding in plain sight, it is worth looking again (if you haven’t done so recently) at the how the Nuggets’ roster was built:
Trades (9): Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov.
Free agents (2): Anthony Randolph and Julyan Stone.
Looked at as a group, the ensemble nature of what Denver and coach George Karl are doing this season – 15 straight, 49-22, fourth-best record in the league with a legit chance to catch OKC to claim the Northwest Division and the West’s No. 2 seed – is amazing and undeniable. That whole sure had better be greater than the sum of its parts, because its parts, on paper especially, wouldn’t scare hardly anybody.
Faried’s sleeper status out of Morehead State has gotten wide play by now. But it’s indicative of Denver’s recent draft history, with the Nuggets stuck at No. 20 or lower for their last 10 picks overall. The last single-digit guy – heck, the last lottery guy – by the Nuggets? Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
As for player acquired via trades, look how many current Nuggets were disappointing Something-Elses before they made it to Denver. Brewer, Randolph and Koufos, huge contributors on a surging team, were left at the curb by Minnesota. So, in a pre-arranged draft night trade, was Lawson, on the same date the Timberwolves spent the No. 6 pick on Jonny Flynn.
Andre Miller was considered old and broken-down by some at age 34, after five teams and 12 seasons. Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov (and Quincy Miller, as a future pick) were, at the time of the Anthony trade, the best Ujiri and the Nuggest could do when faced with a marquee player who wanted out. Hamilton was a throw-in from Dallas to Portland to Denver on the night he was drafted in June 2011 at No. 26.
McGee? He was classic addition-by-subtraction for Washington, eager to reduce the knuckleheads quotient of its locker room. Even Iguodala, so helpful at both ends and in a leadership role, had fallen out of favor in Philadelphia.
Ujiri, early this season, referred to the process as a “rough two years.” Yet the Nuggets did not drop out of the playoffs in that span. They did not, obviously, sit and pine for pricey, big-name free agents they weren’t going to get anyway.
They took what was available and, with Ujiri working as hard in the front office as Karl on the sideline and the players on the court, rigged it MacGyver-style into something special. Gourmet chefs, three-star restaurants and the finest meats and veggies often make for great meals, but occasionally so do leftovers used creatively in perfect balance.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Corey Brewer is no longer just a smiling, string-bean of a kid who likes to remind people he’s a two-time NCAA champion. Nope, the 6-foot-9 Brewer is now a smiling, string-bean of an NBA man.
Finally having found a home with the Denver Nuggets where he can stretch his legs and exploit his raw athleticism, Brewer is also becoming something else: Clutch.
Brewer saved the Nuggets’ winning streak that reached 14 Thursday night with a career-high 29 points that included outscoring the Philadelphia 76ers, 6-0, in the final 9.2 seconds to secure the improbable 101-100 victory. Brewer first drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the game on a play out of a timeout in which Danilo Gallinari, Denver’s most dangerous 3-point threat, got the ball to Brewer open on the wing to make it 100-98.
Sixers guard Evan Turner then missed both free throws with 7.1 seconds left to set up Brewer’s final act, calmly sinking three consecutive free throws after inexplicably being fouled by Damian Wilkins on a deep 3 that didn’t seem to have a prayer. Brewer, a 67.5 percent foul shooter this season (but much better the last two months), hit them all.
After the first and second free throws, he walked to mid-court, could be seen talking to himself, then walked back up to the line and buried the shots that kept the streak alive.
Nuggets coach George Karl has talked a lot recently about his high level of trust with his team and he showed it in leaving Brewer in for the crunch-time minutes. The emerging sixth man has done it before. According to NBA.com/Stats, Brewer has scored 12 points in eight minutes while playing in the final minute of games that Denver either trails or is tied.
During those confidence-building opportunities, Brewer is 3-for-4 from the floor, 2-for-3 from 3-point range — where he’s just 30.4 percent on the season — and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. His plus-minus rating is a plus-16.
Brewer, who turned 27 on March 5, has been coming on strong over the last couple months and particularly during the win streak. Traditionally an inconsistent shooter, Brewer has averaged 14.9 points in March and is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. His free throw shooting is also vastly improved — 76.3 percent in February and 72.4 percent in March.
His plus-minus rating might be the most significant jump of all. In November, December and January, Brewer was a plus-two overall, meaning the Nuggets outscored their opponents by two points with Brewer on the floor. In February and March he’s an astounding plus-87.
Brewer has found the perfect home for his raw talents with Karl’s up-tempo Nuggets. Brewer languished on a young Minnesota Timberwolves teams in the post-Kevin Garnett era, and as part of the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade, he landed with the New York Knicks, but was released and signed by the Dallas Mavericks.
He played sporadically for the Mavs, but provided the key energy boost in the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers. He then played a total of 11 minutes the rest of the way as the Mavs won the title.
Dallas then traded Brewer and Rudy Fernandez to Denver for a bag of beans (2016 second-round draft pick).
On Thursday, Brewer provided the energy and scoring punch (10-for-18 shooting and 5-for-6 on 3s) for a Nuggets team playing without Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. It marked his 12th double-digit scoring game during the win streak and eighth in a row, and it was his third game in the last 10 to score at least 20 points.
But none were bigger than six he dropped on the Sixers in the final 9.2 seconds.
“It’s a pretty big highlight,” Brewer told the Denver Post of the frantic finish, “Probably my best highlight since I was in the NBA.”
Overlooked is fine. Underrated? No problem. Neglected isn’t an issue with the Denver Nuggets even, because it’s a fairly easy thing to do at the moment. Coach George Karl and his bunch headed into their game Tuesday at Oklahoma City with the NBA’s second-longest active winning streak. Trouble is, that’s a distinction that’s akin to Sham’s “place” finish in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, what with the Secretariat-like Miami Heat out front chasing history.
But underestimate the Nuggets at your own peril.
Asked for the umpteenth time this week about Denver, its perceived shortcomings (no superstar to serve as “closer,” playing too fast a pace) and its prospects for reaching The 2013 Finals, Karl bristled a bit. “Definitively yes. I’m tired of the damn question,” he told a group of reporters at Chicago’s United Center Monday.
“First of all, 50 percent of all games are won at the defensive end – I think 70 percent of the games are won with your defense,” Karl said. “The go-to mentality, Ty [Lawson] has gotten good there, Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] has been very good there. Have they gotten into the echelon of a Kobe or a Lebron? I remember you all saying LeBron wasn’t a closer three years ago. Maybe two years ago.
“It’s about making basketball plays. It’s not about a guy making shots. It’s about stops, possessions and efficiency.”
The Nuggets knew they were going to be stronger in the second half of this season. They opened with 22 of their first 32 on the road and lost 14 of the roadies. Since then, though, they are 8-5 away from Pepsi Center and 29-7 overall. Their home mark is 30-3.
Denver leads the NBA in assists per game and in scoring points in the paint, a by-product of playing at the second-fastest pace. It ranks third in offensive rating (110.2) and 12th in defensive rating (105.2).
The improvement in defense can be traced to a good degree to Andre Iguodala‘s arrival. Karl stops short of calling him the best defender he’s ever coached only because he doesn’t want to “get shot” by former Seattle star Gary Payton. But Iguodala’s versatility, athletic ability and demeanor have been a huge influence.
“Any time you have a player you can put on the point guard one night, Kevin Durant the next night and probably, if he had to, [Carlos] Boozer [another night]… He can cover almost anybody on the court,” the coach said. “That’s a great luxury to have as a coach. I think his intensity, his focus is somewhat contagious to some of our younger players.”
The closer-by-committee approach, while it doesn’t five the Nuggets any one player who can reliably get to the foul line late in games, does afford them options.
How does Karl choose from game to game?
“It’s a combination of matchups, what has worked successfully as a play and what player is having a good game,” he said. “And do I want to make a decision or do I want to make a shot? If it’s a decision, you might put the ball in Andre’s hands because he’ll make the pass. I’d say Gallo, because of his size and length, to go get a shot within three seconds, you might put the ball in his hands. And Ty has gotten to be pretty good in situations where teams are giving soft pick-and-roll coverage. So it comes in different packages.
“I think that’s enough. I think it’s more than enough.”
The Nuggets players are aware of the limits being placed on them by outsiders, based on perceptions of what a Finals team should or must be. They like it about as much as Karl does.
“That’s all on how people view the game,” Iguodala said after Denver’s overtime victory against the Bulls Monday. “Sometimes fans, sometimes even players, they don’t know the game sometimes and they look at numbers or they use smoke-and-mirrors as far as who’s a top 15 player, who’s a top 20 player. I think we have guys like that on our team.
We can match up with anybody. I just think as a team we have to mature. And not feel satisfied with the regular season.”
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The NBA got back to regular-season work after All-Star weekend in Houston and there were plenty of choice matchups to pick from. Bucks vs. Nets was a nice way to get things rolling, especially given Joe Johnson‘s display of clutch-itude in both the fourth quarter and OT. There was a great East vs. West matchup in the Mile High City as the Nuggets took on the Celtics, with Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson powering Denver to the win. But we’ll go with a good matchup between two teams scrambling to solidify their playoff footing: the Warriors visiting the Jazz. Multi-faceted forward Gordon Hawyard was back in the action after a 10-game absence due to a shoulder injury while Utah’s big men combo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson shook off the trade rumors surrounding them to lead the Jazz to a win and move them into a tie with the Warriors for No. 6 in the West.
Celtics expected to make some kind of deal — Celtics boss Danny Ainge has steadfastly denied that he’s looking to tinker with Boston’s makeup or trade franchise stalwarts like Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. But rival GMs are saying just the opposite (in what may be a smokescreen act) and think the Celtics are priming themselves for a deal of some kind. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:
As Danny Ainge downplayed the possibility the Celtics will be involved in a transaction before tomorrow’s NBA trade deadline, general managers and personnel people around the league are saying quite the opposite.
They’ll be stunned if the Celts don’t make a deal of some sort.
“They’re too active,” said one. “They’ve been putting a lot of different things out there, and you’d have to think at least one of them is going to come through.”
If the Celtics do pull off a trade, it’s likely something beyond what’s already in the public domain, and many of those talks were dead on arrival.
For example, the Celts did have a brief discussion with the Lakers, but word is Mitch Kupchak said flatly they are not going to deal Dwight Howard, stating that he is part of their future. It’s possible that outlook could change, but with Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery, the Celts wouldn’t have enough to get in on such talks.
The Clippers remain a good target, with Eric Bledsoe an intriguing talent.
“An awesome athlete, but not really a pure point guard,” said one personnel guy. “He could be a Russell Westbrook type if he keeps developing.”
The Hawks’ Josh Smith talk seems a bit of a mystery from the Celtics’ standpoint. To begin with, it would be hard to put together the right package to get him. And it’s even more doubtful they would be willing to part with the kind of things Atlanta is looking for.
Start with the fact Smith almost certainly won’t be signing a three-year extension right after a trade when he can wait until summer and get a longer deal as a free agent. So there’s no guarantee a team trading for him has him beyond the next few months. Then there are the questions of just how much Smith is worth relative to what he can contribute.
“If you could get him to just do the things he does really well and stick to that, I think he’d be one of the best players in this league,” said one ranking team official. “But you get the whole package with Josh. You can probably absorb most of that on a really good team, but is he the kind of guy you’re going to go to in your halfcourt offense in the fourth quarter of a Game 7? For the kind of money you’re going to be paying him, you have to think about that.”
Jennings ‘untouchable’ for now — Just six days ago, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings reportedly had expressed frustration with the front office and had “irreconcilable differences” with team brass. But Jennings quickly reversed field on that story and, although he didn’t commit to a long-term future with the Bucks, seemingly patched things up. Maybe that has led to the news reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that Jennings has become ‘untouchable’. More details here:
The Milwaukee Bucks continue to discuss Josh Smith trade scenarios with the Atlanta Hawks in advance of Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
But those discussions, sources say, also serve as a strong indication of the rising likelihood that Brandon Jennings will not be moved this week.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Monta Ellis is the primary player Atlanta is targeting in its discussion with Milwaukee. Sources say that the Hawks, furthermore, want Milwaukee to add at least one expiring contract to the equation with Ellis and possibly take on some salary.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, meanwhile, reported Wednesday morning on “SportsCenter” that Smith would be interested in playing with both Jennings and Ellis if he wound up in Milwaukee, leading the Bucks to try Wednesday to make the deal without surrendering Ellis.
Yet amid all of those talks, sources say, Jennings has moved alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson on the Bucks’ list of near-untouchables.
The Dallas Mavericks were at the forefront of the list of teams hoping that the Bucks would make Jennings available this week, but Milwaukee appears intent on taking its chances in the offseason, knowing that Jennings will be a restricted free agent and thus unable to leave town unless the Bucks decline to match an offer sheet he receives.
Millsap, Jefferson shrug off trade chatter — As our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in this space, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay could end up being active on trade deadline day … especially considering Utah’s bevy of big men. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are the names most teams would want to acquire and that duo is used to hearing their names bandied about in trade talks over the years. While no solid suitor has emerged (we’ve seen talk of Jefferson-to-San Antonio here and there), the Jazz’s veteran big man duo isn’t letting the talk affect their game. Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News has more:
When asked about trade rumors after returning from the All-Star break, Jazz players and coach Tyrone Corbin all shrugged off any talk about the subject.
“I’ve been in this league a long time. This is my ninth year and Paul’s seventh. We’re used to this,’’ said Jefferson.
“You don’t react. You just let it go,’’ added Millsap. “You can’t do anything about it because you don’t really know for sure. If it don’t come from (the Jazz’s) mouths it’s probably not true.’’
Millsap’s name has come up in trade rumors for years, and the Jazz forward says he’s used to it by now, saying he takes it as a compliment that he’s a wanted player. One of the latest rumors has him going to the L.A. Clippers for point guard Eric Bledsoe and others.That trade would potentially affect Mo Williams, the team’s current starting point guard, who has been sitting out with an injured thumb for more than a month.
Corbin was blunt in talking about trade speculation.
“It’s rumors and we don’t deal with rumors,’’ he said. “We are who we are and everybody here is part of our family. We’ll continue progressing in the way that we have and we expect everybody to respond accordingly.’’
Jefferson has been traded twice in his career, but he knows if the Jazz are involved, it’s unlikely anyone will know about it in advance.
“The one thing about the Utah Jazz is they’re a very professional team,’’ he said. “When a trade comes nobody’s going to know until it actually happens. They’ve been consistent with that. They’re just rumors.’’
Colangelo downplaying Bargnani deal — Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo already pulled off one significant remodel of his team this season by sending Ed Davis to Memphis and Jose Calderon to Detroit as part of the three-team trade that put Rudy Gay in Raptors red. The next name expected to be on the trade block is former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but Colangelo may be cooling on the prospect of trading the outside-shooting big man. Sam Amick of USA Today caught up with Colangelo and talked with him about Bargnani, Colangelo’s future in Toronto and more:
Colangelo, who came to Toronto from Phoenix in 2006 and has been attempting a massive rebuilding effort ever since Chris Bosh left for Miami in the summer of 2010, is in the final year of his contract. In an interview with USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, Colangelo said he has no discussions with ownership about his updated status and remains hopeful that he’ll be around past this summer. The Raptors – who are 5-2 since Gay came on board and 21-32 overall after their horrific 4-19 start – play at Washington Tuesday and have a reunion game with the Grizzlies in Toronto on Wednesday night.
While Colangelo could make more moves before the Thursday trade deadline to help his team and improve his case even more, he downplayed the once-widely-held notion that center Andrea Bargnani would be traded before then. He called that situation “fluid” and said “there just may not have been enough runway prior to the deadline to get something” because Bargnani recently came back from injury.
On Bargnani, how he’s fitting in better now with Gay and the likelihood that he could be traded…
“We began this year with Bargnani as our No. 1 scoring option. He’s now No. 3 because Rudy has arrived and DeMar (DeRozan) has emerged. Now Bargnani is No. 3. There’s talk about possibly moving him – and again we’ve talked about it, not for talent reasons but because maybe sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing for somebody. But sometimes a change of scenery can happen just by redecorating the room.
“All of a sudden the outlook and the presence of a guy like Andrea is entirely different now. He’s not relied on as a No. 1 guy. He has never been paid like a No. 1 option, but people wanted to criticize that he couldn’t handle that role. I’ve always felt like he’s been slotted in salary-wise as a No. 2 or No. 3. Maybe he’s kind of fitting in nicely now.
“If a trade doesn’t occur before the deadline, or even this summer, maybe it’s because we figured out that with the evolution of the team he is the right guy to be a part of this team. He’s been through the hard part. This may be the easiest part ahead of him.
On his future in Toronto …
“There’s been no discussion (about his future since the trade). I certainly haven’t brought it up. I think that we’re, right now, transitioning with an ownership change of our own.
“I’ve proven that, despite all the things that have been happening with the rebuilding of this team simultaneous to the uncertainty with my contract, I always made the right long-term strategic decision with respect to the transactions that were being made or draft picks that were being made. Case in point was drafting (Jonas) Valanciunas (fifth overall in 2011) knowing that he was not going to be here for a year, and that when he did arrive that he’d be 20 and would still be considered a project. But you have to carry out your job with integrity and do the right thing for the organization. That’s what I’ve been hired to do and that’s what I’m doing. Whether or not that pays off for me long-term, with an extension or just even my option year being picked up (for the 2013-14 season), time will tell. But you can’t lose sight of what the job is.” (more…)
a HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Who’s the league’s hottest team either side of San Antonio? Don’t look now, but it’s the Denver Nuggets.
With a grueling road schedule to open the first two months of the season, some observers predicted a hard charge up the standings once the schedule turned in Denver’s favor, which it did starting Jan. 1 with 15 of 18 games to be played in the Mile-High City.
On cue, the sky’s been the limit for George Karl‘s bunch, which is riding an eight-game win streak — while averaging a whopping 115.0 ppg — as part of a larger 15-3 run since New Year’s Day. They’ve won 13 of those 15 home games and have gone 2-1 on the road.
On Dec. 29, the Nuggets had dropped to 17-15 after an ugly 82-71 loss at Memphis. At that point, Denver had played a discombobulating 23 road games, stood seventh in the West and were just one game ahead of — believe it or not — the Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. was 15-15, the last time that outfit would sniff .500.
Now the high-octane, well-balanced Nuggets are 32-18 and have pushed past Houston, Golden State and Memphis to slide into the No. 4 position in the West, a hugely significant spot for a team that’s 22-3 at home. The top four teams in each conference earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Only the smooth-sailing Spurs have fewer home losses (22-2) among teams in both conferences, and no team has more home wins (San Antonio and Oklahoma City each also have 22).
Of course, Karl’s previous seven seasons in Denver have been marked by first-round disappointments six times and twice the Nuggets have wasted a top-four finish by not getting out of the conference quarterfinals (2006 and 2010). Only the 2008-09 Nuggets, who finished second in the West, made it out, with Carmelo Anthony finally taking the team all the way to the West finals before losing to the Lakers.
So home-court advantage isn’t a free pass into the second round, but would the run-and-gun Nuggets rather play four of seven games in the high altitude or, say, in the madhouse that is Golden State’s Oracle Arena?
So now the schedule evens out. Denver has played 25 games at home and 25 on the road (10-15), and next up is a four-game Eastern Conference road swing, including two back-to-backs: Cleveland (Saturday) and Boston (Sunday), followed by Toronto (Tuesday) and Brooklyn (Wednesday).
The Nuggets will look for their two pace-setters to continue their brilliant play that has led to the team’s longest win streak of the season. Neither point guard Ty Lawson nor forward Danilo Gallinari will be in Houston for the All-Star Game, but had they put up these kind of numbers earlier, both might have finally made the squad.
Gallinari is averaging 19.9 ppg during the eight-game win streak and is shooting the 3-ball at a 44.7-percent clip to boost his previously slumping season percentage to 37.3.
Lawson over the last eight games is averaging 18.9 points — more than three points better than his season average — and 8.1 assists — pushing his season average to a career-high 7.0 apg. After posting four double-doubles through the first 42 games, Lawson has two in the last three games and four of his six on the season have come in the last 15 games.
Add Kenneth Faried‘s (12.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg) relentless motor, a deep roster with six players scoring in double figures, and a seventh, Wilson Chandler, back from injury and averaging 9.7 ppg, the Nuggets have a team that can simply gas opponents.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Two great games last night (Clippers-Wolves and Lakers-Suns) that we’d like to nominate as a must-see this morning, but if we have to pick just one, we’re going with Clippers-Wolves. Great back-and-forth action all game, slick passing from Ricky Rubio here and there, Blake Griffindoing his thing, a little bit of chippiness between two West teams that haven’t liked each other much the last few seasons. Going in, this looked like an easy one for the contending Clips against the banged-up Wolves, but it turned into an overall solid game.
Dwight’s shoulder flares up again — Dwight Howard got his shot blocked by Phoenix’s Shannon Brown with 6:57 left in the game and that was the end of the night for the Lakers’ star big man. Check out the video, but Howard is clearly in pain and reaches for that bothersome right shoulder and the torn labrum that’s hobbled him at times all season. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin and the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding both chime in on what’s next for Howard, who says he won’t shut himself down for the season:
Howard checked out of the game and did not return as the Suns finished on a 19-8 run without him in there. Howard’s shoulder will be re-evaluated Thursday after the team flies to Minneapolis and his availability for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves will be determined.
“It’s real sore,” Howard told reporters after icing his shoulder and applying kinesiology tape to the joint following the game. “Everything on (the right) side (of my body) is hurting pretty bad right now.”
Howard originally injured his shoulder during a Jan. 4 game against the Los Angeles Clippers and sat out three games to try to strengthen the muscles surrounding his shoulder. He re-aggravated it in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last week and sat out the second half, but did not miss any subsequent games.
The All-Star center said Wednesday’s aggravation was the worst pain he’s had since the original injury occurred against the Clippers and he will have to consider resting again to help it heal.
“I’m going to try as much as I can but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” said Howard, who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes against Phoenix. “I don’t want to (miss any games), but we’ll see.”
Dwight Howard flatly ruled out shutting himself down or turning to surgery for the labrum injury in his right shoulder, even though he said the pain from this aggravation was the greatest since he first got hurt.
“Just got to deal with it as much as I can,” he said late Wednesday night after the Lakers’ loss to Phoenix.
Howard said that the shoulder pain on previous occasions has abated the day after, which he hopes will be the case again. Accordingly, the Lakers are expecting him play Friday in Minnesota, and Kobe Bryant said the labrum issue is one that will go on all season but with which Howard can learn to deal.
“I’m going to try as much as I can, but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” Howard said.
Howard’s injury is not the common tear in the labrum itself that has sent many athletes into surgery and months of recovery. Howard has explained his injury as a tear only in the sense of the labrum tearing away from the bone in his shoulder.
Howard said: “I won’t lose my spirit, and I’ve just got to continue to do whatever I can to get my shoulder strong.”
It has been obvious for some time that it is time for Bargnani to move on, for his sake and for the Raptors, and Colangelo indicated a move could happen soon, though it is not a certainty.
“Andrea is a player that has definitely garnered interest. Unfortunately when he gets hurt that takes him off the market,” Colangelo explained after breaking down the Gay trade to reporters.
“That’s not to say we’re going to trade Andrea … He’s a unique talent, but sometimes a change of address is not bad. I’m not saying he’s asked for a trade, but he would certainly not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation.”
Bargnani has two years left on his contract, but is a tremendous offensive weapon, when in top form, a player opposing coaches gameplan around. He has many faults, and this corner has addressed them many times, but someone will come calling for him.
But likely only if he returns to the lineup soon, and well in advance of the February 21st deadline.
“Right now there’s no assurances we trade Andrea. Right now, the goal and the focus is to get him back healthy on the court and let him contribute to this team and we’ll see where things go,” Colangelo said.
Not long before Colangelo spoke, Casey let loose, after the officials declined to call a foul at the end of Toronto’s one-point loss when DeMar DeRozan clearly was mauled.
“I’m tired of losing games because of missed calls at the end of games. I know the league is going to come down on me, but I don’t care,” said a seething Casey, smoke practically billowing out of his ears.
“These guys have fought their hearts out, played their hearts out and at the end of the game, we get cracked, (league sends out an) apology, go back to Canada. I’ve been in this league 18 years and I’ve never seen so many missed calls at the end of the game to cost us the game. We’ve got great officials in this league, and too good to miss calls and short-change young men like this. It’s not right. I watched the replay three or four times, hoping that they (somehow made the right call) but they didn’t,” he said.
“This is fourth time this year that we’ve been in this situation … Clearly DeMar DeRozan was cracked on that last play. Make him go to the line and make two free throws.”
Pistons bid adeu to last title-team link — Tayshaun Prince will always be remembered in Pistons folklore for a play known as “The Block” — Prince rejecting Reggie Miller‘s breakaway layup in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons would win that series and the ’04 crown and Prince was an integral part of the Pistons’ lockdown defensive crew of the 2000s that featured Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press says parting with Prince in the Rudy Gay trade was what Detroit needed to do to official move on from that era:
There’s a graphic montage of the 2004 NBA champion Pistons in their practice facility, honoring all the contributions from that blue-collar, superstar-devoid anomaly. The image of Tayshaun Prince captures his lanky arm swooping up from behind an unsuspecting Reggie Miller, swiping away what should have been a game-clinching lay-up for Indiana in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in Indianapolis.
“The Block” shifted momentum in the Pistons’ favor.
It was fitting that Prince’s long career as a Piston ended Wednesday at the site of his signature moment.
The Pistons parted with Prince and Austin Daye in deal with Memphis and Toronto that landed them point guard Jose Calderon — and more important, his expiring $10.5-million contract.
Prince represents the last link of the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons era highlighted by the 2004 championship as well as six consecutive trips to the conference finals. It’s always a difficult decision parting with someone so deeply intertwined with an identity that paid many dividends.
But it was a move that was long overdue.
The Pistons finally have closed the chapter on that period.
In the Pistons’ locker room following their loss to the Pacers, Prince expressed his surprise over the trade but acknowledged that he was ready to take “the next step” in his career.
This was a good trade, but it also places an unwritten ultimatum on Pistons president Joe Dumars. If the Pistons aren’t a playoff team capable of advancing beyond the first round next season with all the possibilities now available to them, Dumars should be shown the door. After this summer, there are no longer any excuses.
This season’s written off — as it should be. Throw the young guys out there into the deep waters and see how they respond. Not making the playoffs guarantees that they can keep the conditional first-round draft pick Dumars offered Charlotte to entice it into taking Ben Gordon‘s toxic contract off his hands.
It made no sense keeping Prince around as a reminder of what once was. The memories always will be there, but it’s time to move forward. This trade actually provides hope that finally the Pistons can return to local relevance and attract more people to the Palace in another season. They’re finally turning the page, finally saying farewell to a period of great pride and performance.
Heat deal crushing blow to Nets’ confidence? — Since parting with coach Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, the Nets have gone 13-5 under coach P.J. Carlesimo and made up ground in the East playoff chase. Wednesday night’s matchup with the Heat — Miami’s only visit to Brooklyn this season — was supposed to be a showdown of East powerhouses. What happened instead was a Heat romp led by LeBron James and Co. that left some doubts in Brooklyn, writes Howard Beck of the New York Times:
For the better part of five weeks, the Nets evolved. They focused a bit harder, reached a bit higher, listened more intently and became a better version of themselves. But evolution is a squiggly path, not a straight line, and that path was obliterated Wednesday by a team that needs no growth or introspection.
The Miami Heat dealt the Nets a blow so forceful, so profoundly humiliating, it might have knocked them right back into the doldrums of December. The final score was 105-85, but the gap seemed twice as wide, and the psychic damage perhaps even deeper.
Most of the Nets’ players left the locker room before reporters arrived. Those that remained wore dull expressions, except for Gerald Wallace, who was simply seething.
“Typical Nets basketball,” Wallace said. “We don’t play together. Careless turnovers. We don’t execute offensively. And defensively, we don’t do anything. We don’t defend. We don’t guard the ball. We don’t help each other out. It’s the same story as it’s been all season.”
It hadn’t looked that way for most of January, with the Nets winning 11 of 14 games before this one, steadily climbing the Eastern Conference standings. Wallace said it was an illusion, a product of a soft schedule, and he may be right. The Nets have lost three of four games, all by double digits.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two fully evolved N.B.A. superstars, led the charge for Miami, putting together a highlight reel of flying dunks, all before a national television audience and with the Nets’ owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, watching from a luxury suite.
James put up 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Wade added 21 points. And the Heat hardly broke a sweat after putting the game away with a 36-14 third quarter.
“When the bubble burst, it burst completely,” said P. J. Carlesimo, the Nets’ coach.
The Heat have beaten the Nets by an average of 21 points over three games, but Wallace and Joe Johnson both insisted they were not that far behind Miami, or at least shouldn’t be.
“It has nothing to do with the talent,” Wallace said, adding, “It just has to do with teamwork.”
The tension started hours before tip-off, with Reggie Evans’ deriding the Heat’s championship in an interview with The Daily News, and James accusing the Nets of quitting on Coach Avery Johnson, who was fired in December.
“They are playing with more passion, more together — they are playing like they want to play for their coach,” James told reporters after the Heat’s shootaround.
By that time, Evans had already slighted the Heat, saying their title “doesn’t prove nothing.” He added, “That was a lockout season.”
Taunting the N.B.A.’s best team is always inadvisable. The Nets should be clear on that much now.
It’s never a goal for Gregg Popovich or his players, but now that Popovich has been officially installed as coach for the Western Conference All-Star team, the veteran of 16-plus seasons on the Spurs’ bench admits he looks forward to a weekend with some of basketball’s best players.
Popovich earned his spot because the Spurs are guaranteed a better record than the Clippers on Sunday, the deadline for determining the coaches for the Feb. 17 showcase at Houston’s Toyota Center.
While it is still possible for Oklahoma City to have a better winning percentage than the Spurs, Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t allowed, by league rule, from coaching because he led the West at the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando.
“It will be just like it has been in the past: a heck of an opportunity to enjoy amazing talent,” Popovich said after his team’s 102-78 victory over the Bobcats. “That’s not just a B.S. or trite statement. It’s true. When you’re around those guys, you look around the room and you can’t believe you’re in the same room with them. It’s a huge honor just to be a part of it.”
Popovich also coached the West All-Stars in 2005 and 2011.
Gallinari, Nuggets keep rounding into form — Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari had a rough November and December, shooting a combined 40.2 percent and averaging 15.9 ppg. But January has been a different story as he’s shooting 46.9 percent (and 43.2 percent from 3-point range) and averaging 19.3 ppg as Denver has picked up steam. Last night’s win over the Rockets only kept he and the Nuggets humming, writes Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:
The Italian Danilo Gallinari hit three key 3-pointers, two of them back-to-back, in Wednesday’s crazy fourth quarter, and the Nuggets did it again. Make it a dozen. The Nuggets won their 12th game of January in the final game of the month, and fifth straight overall, 118-110 against Houston, a team Denver also beat one week ago.
The Nuggets made it interesting, indeed. Just as in the previous game against Indiana, a big fourth-quarter lead dwindled. On Wednesday, Denver led by 13 points with 6:54 remaining, but the home team made the necessary stops and sent the fans home happy (with tacos, too!).
Gallo was gallant. The Nuggets forward, the team’s top player in this 12-3 month, scored a team-high 27 points, doing so on a respectable 10-for-17 shooting. He also unleashed two monster slams, one a one-handed hammer over Greg Smith, the other after dribbling the length of the floor.
And his two consecutive treys gave Denver a 94-86 lead during an push in the early stages of the final quarter.
And so, the Nuggets (29-18) have won those five consecutive games heading into two winnable games, first against New Orleans on Friday and then against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
ICYMI of the night: Anyone wondering if John Wall is completely healed from his knee injury should go ask Sixers big man Spencer Hawes:
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A rugged early-season schedule and the lack of a true go-to-guy could have been their downfall. It had the potential to render all of that preseason fawning over the Denver Nuggets a waste of time, if these Nuggets weren’t made of the rugged materials at their core.
They played a staggering 17 of their first 24 games on the road, away from the friendly and high altitude confines of the Pepsi Center, going 12-12 during that stretch to stay afloat just long enough to get to the place where they are now. And that place is smack in the middle of a stretch that sees them playing 12 of 14 games at home with a chance to make some serious noise in the Western Conference standings.
The Nuggets are 10-4 since their schedule evened out and are winners of five straight after a Sunday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors. At 23-16, Denver is looking more and more like the team some pundits believed to be a challenger to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.
There is still plenty of work to do, of course. Even with this recent climb, they are still looking from the outside on the top four in the West. But they’re in a position now to battle the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors for that fourth spot.
Suddenly, the fourth quarter has become the Nuggets’ quarter.
Whether they slosh through the first three quarters or play well from the start and find themselves in a tight contest, the fourth has been the separation quarter for this team, trying to hit its stride this month.
The Nuggets outscored Golden State 37-18 in the fourth quarter Sunday night to make a tough game look like an easy 116-105 win at the Pepsi Center. It was the Nuggets’ season-high fifth straight win.
So what’s different in the fourth quarter?
“Urgency and desperation and professional pride,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Nuggets turn up the defense and shift the offense into overdrive in the final period. During this five-game winning streak, they’ve outscored their opponents 151-102 in the fourth, an average of 30.2 points to 20.4.
“I feel like we’re most focused in the fourth quarter for some reason,” center JaVale McGee said. “I don’t know why. I feel like we take the first half for granted, but we really go hard in the fourth quarter.”
In addition to the surge, the Nuggets appear to have struck gold on another front. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari are turning into the sort of 1-2 punch that you need to grind out games, guys who power the attack when need be. They combined for 41 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Warriors.
It doesn’t hurt to get 22 points from your bench in the fourth, as they did Sunday. But the guys who make the Nuggets go on a nightly basis have to do their part to create an opportunity for the bench to handle their business.
But with a core group that also includes HT fave Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried, the versatile and dangerous Andre Iguodala and crafty veterans like Andre Miller and the underrated Corey Brewer, the Nuggets have the pieces to keep their current run going for a while.
With nine of their next 11 games at home, opportunity is banging on the door for the Nuggets.
DALLAS – They kept giving, so Danilo Gallinari kept taking.
The Denver Nuggets forward scored a career-high 39 points and tied a career-high with seven 3-pointers, a feat he’d accomplished just once before on Oct. 28, 2009, with the New York Knicks. Gallinari put up 11 high-arching bombs from beyond the arc in Friday’s 106-85 rout of the reeling Dallas Mavericks simply because, well, no one really stepped out to guard him.
Afterward, Gallinari acknowledged as much, and as any proper house guest should, he politely thanked the Mavs for their hospitality.
“I was open and I shoot it,” the Italian-born Gallinari said. “So, I got to thank the defense they prepared on me for leaving me open for the 3.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 15 in the first half, but with the Mavs coming on and down only 50-47, Gallinari went to work in the final 5.6 seconds. He buried a 3 and then, after Andre Miller picked off a pass,Gallinari left the Mavs flat-footed at the rim. He threw down Ty Lawson‘s missed 3 at the buzzer for a momentum-changing 5-point swing to give him 15 points and the Nuggets a 55-47 halftime lead.
Then, he opened the third quarter with his fourth 3-pointer and the demolition was on. He and Andre Iguodala went a combined 11-for-17 from beyond the arc while slumping Dallas, losers of five in a row and eight of nine, was just 5-for-25.
“It’s not pretty right now,” said Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had rough night, going 2-for-10 from the floor for five points in his third game back from October knee surgery. “On the defensive end, our coverages get blown left and right and the other team makes us pay.”
Gallinari was 14-for-23 overall and also had eight rebounds, three assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes.
“He should [have] got 40 [points],” said Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, who contributed a massive effort with 11 points and 19 rebounds. “That was a phenomenal performance.”
Gallinari, 24, blew away his season-high of 28 a little more than a week ago in a win over the Spurs. He came into Friday’s game not having made more than four 3s in a game this season, and he was shooting the 3-ball at just a 31.7-percent clip. He had made nine 3s in his last five games.
“My teammates were really finding me tonight and I’m glad I was making my shots,” Gallinari said. “Tonight was one of those games where after you release the ball you think that it’s going in.”
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Denver Nuggets had a historically bad night from the perimeter in Portland on Thursday. But if any team was going to score 91 of its 93 points from the paint and the free throw line, it was going to be the Nuggets.
Denver is a good team, and they’re obviously better than their 14-13 record, because they’ve played such a brutal, road-heavy schedule. But they still have their flaws, in particular outside shooting.
If there’s one thing that the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder have taught us, it’s that 3-point shooting can make you a very potent offense. But the Nuggets aren’t the only good team with that particular shortcoming. And with trade season officially open, there should be more than a few teams in the market for a shooter or two…
There are six teams in the league that have made more than twice as many threes per game as the Bulls have (4.2). They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage last season, but their three best shooters from that squad – Kyle Korver (Atlanta), C.J. Watson (Brooklyn) and John Lucas (Toronto) – are gone.
Marco Belinelli is the Bulls’ best shooter and their threes are up since he has joined the starting lineup. But they obviously need another perimeter threat, even if they’re eventually getting Derrick Rose back this season.
It doesn’t help the Nuggets that neither of their point guards (Ty Lawson and Andre Miller) can shoot this season or that Andre Iguodala is their starting two guard. Iguodala shot 39 percent from beyond the arc last season, but this year, he’s back at his career mark of 33 percent.
The Nuggets still have a top-10 offense because they get out on the break, get into the paint, get to the line and are the best offensive rebounding team in the league. But a shooter could open things up and keep defenses from packing the paint when the Nuggets aren’t running.
The Grizzlies’ 3-point percentage looks fine on the surface, but they don’t take nearly enough threes to keep the floor spread for their big and talented frontline.
Memphis could probably use O.J. Mayo, the league leader in 3-point percentage, right about now. Mayo’s replacement, Wayne Ellington, hit seven threes in Memphis’ Nov. 11 win over the Heat, but then hit only five over the next 13 games. Mike Conley is the team’s best 3-point shooter, but he’s also the team’s point guard.
The “shooting” guard is Tony Allen, who has made a grand total of 12 3-pointers over the last four seasons and has shot 28 percent from outside the paint over the last five. Rudy Gay‘s jumper has seemingly regressed over the last two years.
The Grizzlies are 17-6 because they have the No. 1 defense in the league, and Allen is a huge part of that. But if they truly want to be title contenders, they need to improve offensively. And that starts with better shooting from the perimeter.
The Wolves have just been brutal from beyond the arc. In fact, in the last 10 seasons, only last season’s Bobcats have shot worse (29.5 percent) from 3-point range.
The problem starts with Kevin Love, who is 18-for-73 (25 percent) from 3-point range. Love has shed the glove that he wore when he returned from his broken hand and he did hit four of his nine threes in Thursday’s win over the Thunder. So there’s hope that the numbers will improve as the season goes on.
Still, Chase Budinger‘s absence has left the Wolves without a real shooter on the wings.
Additional thoughts on the Lakers and Nets
The Lakers seemingly need more shooters to run D’Antoni’s offense at peak efficiency, but they currently rank fifth in offensive efficiency and sixth in 3-point percentage. The key has been Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, up from 30.0 percent last season. So it will be interesting to see if they can keep that up.
The Nets rank 19th in 3-point percentage, but mostly because Deron Williams leads the team in attempts. Williams shot 36 percent from beyond the arc in Utah, but is at 32 percent since joining the Nets. This season, he’s in Dwyane Wade territory: 42-for-143 (29 percent).