Nash sidelined, enter the Dragic

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If Steve Nash is the brain of the Phoenix Suns and Amar’e Stoudemire the heart, then I guess that would make Goran Dragic something like a nose or an ear; he provides a service that aids in survival, but he hardly represents something essential for the Phoenix Suns.

Until today. According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, Dragic is set to get his second career start tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as Steve Nash will be sidelined with an abdominal strain and lingering back pain. Seeing and understanding what it take to run a team will be a crucial step in Dragic’s development, and experiences like these where Goran can slide into a veteran lineup ready and waiting for him to give them the word (and the ball) are extremely helpful in that capacity.

The Suns were resolved to get Dragic in the 2008 draft, and his rookie year hardly lived up to the effort and the hype. But Goran has rebounded nicely in his sophomore campaign, and looks downright Nashian at times. He also shows more of a willingness to score than Nash does, and has the size and speed necessary to play off the ball at times. The talent is clearly there, but putting a ceiling on Dragic’s game can be a bit tricky; he’s still acclimating himself to the NBA game as we speak, and yet he’s already made a pretty tremendous jump in terms of his comfort level. He forced the issue far too often last year in a desperate attempt to prove himself, and as a result he shot just 39.3% from the field. But this season, Dragic plays strictly within the flow of the offense, and as a result his shooting is way up (46.1%) and his turnover rate is down.

These opportunities won’t come often for Dragic, as Steve Nash is something of an iron man, even at 36. But if the Suns are to commit to him as the point guard of the future, he needs to show that he’s not only capable of performing as Nash’s safety net and an off-ball threat, but with the reins of the offense in his hands as well.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Can Thunder win 60 games?

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Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are healthy — just how good will the Thunder be?

The bold prediction in this PBT Extra preview with Jenna Corrado is that the Thunder will win 60 games, something they have not yet done. I wouldn’t bet on them hitting that number — with a new coach, and them making sure Durant and Westbrook get rest coming off injuries, plus the fact they’re in the deep West, that number may be high.

I think they have a better chance to come out of the West than win 60 games. I think they have a good shot to come out of the West.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”