NBA Playoffs: Can Denver beat Utah on the road?

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Stealing a win on the road was a huge break for the Utah Jazz. Utah and Denver were a combined 66-16 at home this year, and went 40-42 on the road. Clearly, both of these teams are a lot more comfortable in their own buildings. Even without Kirilenko and Okur in the rotation, Utah has a lot of momentum going right now. 

That being said, the momentum will go right back to Denver if they can get a win tonight. Considering how many offensive weapons the Nuggets have, it’s never a good idea to count them out of a game. Let’s take a look at how each team can win Friday’s game in Utah and take a 2-1 advantage in the series:
Utah:
-Keep Deron Williams going:

Williams averaged 29.5 points and 12.5 assists on 51.7%/50.0%/80.6% shooting over the first two games. Utah is the more disciplined team at both ends of the floor; if Williams can continue to take over games on his own, they have a great chance.
Contain Carmelo Anthony to some degree:
The Jazz were able to live with Carmelo scoring 32 points on 25 shots in game 2. They weren’t able to handle Carmelo scoring 42 points on 25 shots in game 1. As long as he plays like a normal All-Star instead of going absolutely insane, Utah should be able to score enough to hold on. 
-Be Aggressive offensively:

The Jazz didn’t turn into the Suns during game two, but they did seem to get into their offense much quicker and look for more quick-hitting baskets. The Nuggets are a below-average defensive team, and Utah should look to attack the rim against them rather than settling for mid-range jumpers out of their flex sets. 

Get Something out of Wesley Matthews:

Korver coming off the bench takes some pressure off of Matthews, but going 3-12 from the floor over the first two games is not ideal for a starting shooting guard on a playoff team.
Denver:
-Use Your Big Men:

Like the Lakers, the Nuggets have a tremendous size advantage down low but don’t seem to be cognizant of it. Nene and Martin aren’t traditional post-up bigs, but they have the ability to punish Utah’s injury-riddled frontline if they get set up with chances to attack the rim. Martin and Nene both shot 7-10 from the field in game two; J.R. Smith, who went 3-10, was allowed to shoot just as much as either one of them. That should not be so. 
-Play Under Control:

Eight turnovers for the Nuggets in game one. 17 turnovers for the Nuggets in game two. Guess which game the Nuggets lost? Organized chaos only works if the offense knows what it’s doing. It’ll be hard to stay calm with the Utah crowd screaming their heads off, but it’s what the Nuggets have to do. 
-Attack Boozer and Milsap:

First of all, both Boozer and Millsap are iffy defenders. More importantly, if one of them gets into foul trouble, it means major minutes for Fesenko and Koufos. Those are not the guys Jerry Sloan wants to have to count on in the playoffs. 
-Get something out of Ty Lawson:

In game 1, Lawson had 11 points and 6 assists in 22 minutes, and the Nuggets were a +16 when he was on the floor. In game two, he had 3 points and 1 assist in 14 minutes. Lawson is a better backup point than anyone on the Jazz. The Nuggets should try to turn that advantage into some points. 
-Try to play defense:

I know Denver tries to outscore teams, but they should be capable of holding the Jazz to under 50% from the field or 40% from beyond the arc. Maybe they can start out by doing just one of those things in game three. Baby steps, you know?
Well, those are my keys. Tune it at 10:30 EST to watch either the Jazz or Nuggets win for completely different reasons than the ones listed above. 

An NBA first: Every coach who started last season is back

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MIAMI (AP) — Dozens of NBA players found new homes this offseason. A few front offices dealt with hirings and firings. There’s a new arena in Detroit and an ownership change looms in Houston. The league’s logo was even tweaked.

Change was everywhere.

That is, except the coaches’ offices.

Here’s a first for the NBA: Every coach is back. From the start of last season to the start of this season – barring something happening in training camps, anyway – not a single NBA team has changed coaches. That’s an unprecedented run of retention and an obvious source of pride for coaches across the league as the first practices of the season get set to occur this weekend.

“I think what people are seeing is what this league needs, what these players need more than anything, is stability and a consistent message,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who’s going into his 10th season. “Otherwise we’re just losing ground if you have to start all over every year. That’s a tough way to win in this business. That’s a tough way to build any sort of culture or consistency.”

No one is starting over in the next few days, at least in the sense that a new staff is taking over a team.

Last season was the first since 1963-64 – and only the fourth in league history – where there were no in-season changes. The league was much smaller back then as well, with only nine coaches having to keep their bosses happy.

It’s a 30-team league now, and a year ago at this time 10 of those clubs had a new coach.

“From top to bottom, we have a very high quality level of coaching,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “This is as stable as our profession has been in decades. Contracts are strong, the league is constructed in a way now where coaching is extremely important and ownership understands the importance of the coaching process.”

There hasn’t been a coaching hire since Jeff Hornacek was formally announced by the New York Knicks on June 2, 2016 – which might not sound that long ago, but in a field without any real job security that’s an eternity. So when coaches gathered last week for their annual preseason meeting, they celebrated the fact that there were no new faces in the room.

“We’ve talked about the importance of supporting one another – and at the same time, the need to try to beat each others’ brains in,” Carlisle said. “It’s a conflicting sort of concept from afar, but internally we are the only ones that know all the challenges that head coaches in the NBA face. And because of that, there’s a real healthy respect for one another.”

Summer vacations are ending now. Coaches will all be grabbing their whistles in the next few days, starting with Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau on Saturday when the Warriors and Timberwolves open training camp – those teams can start early because they’re going to China in the preseason.

The other 28 teams start practice on Tuesday.

“In team-building and pro sports, a lot of times the methodical long game is what’s necessary,” said Spoelstra, the second-longest-tenured coach in the league behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. “But you’re seeing less and less of that. That’s why last year was such a pleasant surprise. I think it really was a celebration of stability and an acknowledgment of how complex this position can be.”

 

Timberwolves sign Aaron Brooks for training camp, maybe more

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Tom Thibodeau brought in Jeff Teague to be the starting point guard in Minnesota (replacing Ricky Rubio, who was never a Thibs favorite). Behind him is the promising young guard Tyus Jones.

Could Aaron Brooks be added to the mix?

Minnesota announced on Thursday it had signed Brooks and he will be in training camp with them. While the terms of the deal were not made official, no doubt this is a contract for the minimum.

Brooks backed up Teague in Indiana last season, that trend could continue. Brooks will battle rookie Melo Trimble — also on a partially guaranteed deal — for the third point guard spot in camp. The Timberwolves have 17 people coming to training camp but do have a roster spot.

Brooks might work for the Timberwolves as a veteran off the bench, and we know Thibodeau likes veterans. Brooks brings energy on offense and he can knock down the three (37.5 percent last season), especially off a catch-and-shoot. However, he struggles defensively, especially if asked to switch. He has a limited game (which is why the Pacers moved on after last season and other teams didn’t come calling), but in a very limited role maybe it works for Minnesota.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.