Posts Tagged ‘Wilson Chandler’

McGee’s Injury Adds To Denver’s Woe

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — JaVale McGee‘s hope-filled season started poorly and has taken a sharp turn for the worse. McGee is out indefinitely with a fracture to his left shin, the team announced Sunday.

This season was supposed to be something of a new start for the 7-foot center renowned more for his goofiness than his contributions in his five previous seasons, three-and-a-half spent with the Washington Wizards before getting traded to Denver.

Under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, McGee expected to take over as the starter, and he did, and figured to be a focal point of an offense that was turning more traditional coming out of George Karl’s up-tempo attack. But McGee’s minutes didn’t rise; they dipped to lower levels than under former coach George Karl, just 15.8 mpg. He was averaging 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg.

His struggles have mirrored the team’s lackluster performances leading to a 1-4 record coming off last season’s franchise-record 57 victories. Before training camp commenced, McGee, who dealt with left shin pain last season, was as juiced for this season as any previous year. He was determined to be taken seriously as a difference-making center.

“I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league,” McGee told in September. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.

“It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

Apparently Shaw wasn’t seeing what he wanted from the big man. Because McGee wasn’t playing much, perhaps his loss won’t be as costly as it might have been if he had gotten off to the start he had hoped. Shaw told reporters he’ll either start Timofey Mozgov or undersized J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 power forward who played out of position in the middle all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Denver plays at winless Utah on Monday and returns home Wednesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

That McGee got off to such a slow start is discouraging for his future with a franchise that gave him a $44 million extension in the summer of 2012. Only 25, McGee has long been considered a talent just waiting to break out, yet is constantly sabotaged by errors or buffoonery of his own creation. He has enticing offensive skills on the block and is an excellent shot blocker, but he has never been able to put together a full repertoire and execute it.

Last season, Karl was asked why McGee couldn’t crack 18 mpg. Karl simply simply said he didn’t deserve more. Shaw apparently didn’t need to see much to be in agreement. Now McGee will sit idle as he waits for his shin to heal.

The transitioning Nuggets, meanwhile, will try to figure out how to string together consistent efforts with a roster still missing its top two forwards, Danilo Galinari, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery and Wilson Chandler, who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury.

McGee’s injury only adds to his personal frustration and the team’s growing challenge.

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Lawson Injury Puts Nuggets In A Ditch

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.

The Playoff Express needs its driver.

Denver’s Whole Much More Than Sum Of Its Parts


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 “ 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:

  • Drafted (3): Kenneth Faried (2011, Round 1, No. 22 overall); Evan Fournier (2012, Round 1, No. 20 overall), and Quincy Miller (2012, Round 2, No. 38 overall).
  • 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.

Brewer Is Scoring … And Coming Up Clutch


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, 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.”

After Home Blitz, Nuggets Rising in West


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.

Especially on their home floor.

Are Nuggets Just Starting To Take Off?


HOUSTON — There were just a few ticks more than 30 seconds left in the third quarter when the ball and a thunderclap of inspiration came to JaVale McGee on the right elbow.

He took a step toward the basket, ducked under the outstretched arm of the Rockets’ Omer Asik and, well, what the heck, flipped the ball high off the glass, then climbed a ladder in the sky to grab it with one hand and blasted it through the rim.

Ground control to Major Tom.

“When I first got the ball I was thinking dunk,” McGee said. “Then I thought if I didn’t dunk it, I was going to get taken out of the game.”

Too late for those kinds of worries. The Nuggets had already taken the Rockets completely out of the game with a 4-1/2 minute stretch that was out of this world. Wilson Chandler off the bench with steals and jumpers. Ty Lawson with drives to the hoop. Andre Iguodala with all little things that he does.

It was a night for milestones that could have touched off an inter-generational rumble in the Nuggets’ locker room. Coach George Karl, who won the 1,100th game of his career, walked up to the locker stall of Iguodala, who scored his 10,000th career point and cracked: “I’m taking the game ball. You’re on your own.”

No worries. The way things are going, there could be plenty of other occasions to remember if the Nuggets keep up at this rate. The team that lived out of a suitcase through the end of 2012 with 22 of its first 32 games on the road, is now 9-3 since the start of the new year.

It’s more than just home cooking that had turned things around. It’s this delicious combination of all-around athletes that has simmered long enough in Karl’s pot to become a quite tasty dish.

The grueling season-opening forged toughness and togetherness that could pay off for the Nuggets down the road. Karl recently said that he is tired of scrambling down the stretch of the regular season to latch onto one of the final playoff spots in the rugged Western Conference. He has his sights set on battling with the Grizzlies and Warriors for the 4-5 spots. The Nuggets are currently sixth, just 2 1/2 games behind No. 4 Memphis.

“I still think we’re 20 games away from really establishing ourselves as a team that’s got to be reckoned with,” Karl told Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post.

That should be a shot across the bow of the Western Conference elite Thunder, Clippers and Warriors, who have already been taken down by the Nuggets since Jan. 1.

Here is Iguodala, finally free to just play his all-around game and fit in at both ends of the floor, reaching a significant career plateau and being unaware.

“I wasn’t predicted to be here, so it’s a dream come true to be in the NBA,” he said.

Here is Karl, now the seventh-winningest NBA coach of all time, with the miles and the scars on his resume, just watching the odometer flip over again.

“I’ll probably have a ball signed by the players to put in my trophy case, drink a few beers, some day remembering,” he said.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m at the stage in my career where fortunately I still love the game and still have the privilege to coach a good basketball team. The accolades are because of so many other people more than me. But I put a lot of losses on my belt, so maybe I’ll take some accolades every once in a while too.”

And as long as his team puts in the effort on defense, he’ll even smile at the same time he cringes while looking at the replays of McGee’s showboating dunk.

“It doesn’t fall under the fundamental area of basketball, but it worked and I’m glad it worked,” Karl said. “I hope he doesn’t try it a lot in the future.”

Because from the looks of things, the Nuggets might have too much serious ball to play.

Clippers Top League’s Best Benches


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.

All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.

The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.

Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.

That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.

With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …

L.A. Clippers

The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.

Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.

The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.

Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.

San Antonio

Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.

The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.

This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)

Report: Howard Won’t Go Back To Magic

HANG TIME, TEXAS— No matter where he plays next season, Dwight Howard should have his agent sign an endorsement deal with IHOP. Only a pancake griddle has more flip-flops than his story.

He’s going. He’s staying. He’s going. He’s staying. He plans to retire and become a coconut farmer on an island in the South Pacific. OK, we made that last one up. We think.

After meeting on Wednesday with new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, the word is that the All-Star center wants to be in L.A. in this summer, Brooklyn in January or Dallas next July.

But according to Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM, the one scenario that Howard will not consider for a moment is a return to Orlando for the 2012-13 season:

Hennigan’s pitch to Howard had a heavy focus on the two men developing a relationship that would be valuable to the Magic moving forward. He expressed a sincere interest in getting to know the six-time All-Star and working with him to improve the team. Howard, however, was expecting an outline of how the team planned to improve and get back to a championship-contending level, something he didn’t receive during the hour-long meeting, according to sources. 

Howard was staunch in his stance and again made it clear to Hennigan that he has no desire to return to Orlando. He told the 30-year-old general manager that he would “never sign another contract with the Magic,” according to sources that spoke with RealGM. 

During the meeting, Howard informed Hennigan that he would be willing to re-sign with the Lakers at the end of the 12-13 season if the two teams were able to complete a trade.

The scenarios Howard was open to during the meeting were: An immediate trade to the Lakers, a January trade to the Brooklyn Nets or a clean break at the end of the 2012-13 season. But he was clear that he would not return to the Magic, choosing to leave as a free agent after the season, sources told RealGM. 

Hennigan informed Howard that he didn’t have any deals in the works and wasn’t quite sure how to respond to what he was told, according to sources. Hennigan was noncommittal on any of the discussed scenarios as the meeting ended. 

Hennigan’s noncommittal approach has only frustrated Howard more as it’s believed that several acceptable offers have been presented to the Magic only to be turned down due to a lack of a true intent to trade him, sources said. (more…)

Dwight update: Not close to a trade with Rockets

Friday came and went, and just like all the other days that have passed since June 24, 2004, Dwight Howard was still a member of the Orlando Magic.

Despite the Houston Rockets using the amnesty provision to waive forward Luis Scola, there was no trade of Howard from Orlando to Houston, and sources briefed on the talks between the two sides said the teams weren’t nearly as close to a trade as many have speculated. That can change in an instant, of course, but late Friday, there was no deal.

Talks between the two sides are “not active,” one source said Friday.

“There’s nothing happening,” another source said.

The Rockets, according to a league source briefed on the discussions, are willing to take one bad contract back from the Magic, not two or three, as has been speculated. And in return, Houston will give up one of the their three first-round picks in last month’s Draft– Jeremy Lamb, Royce White or Terrence Jones –but only one.

The Rockets would be willing to send a future draft pick to Orlando –presumably the Lottery-protected first-rounder Houston received this week from Toronto for guard Kyle Lowry — and send a veteran player to the Magic, helping Orlando clear $10 to $15 million worth of cap room, in exchange for the six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.