NBA Playoffs: Carmelo Anthony's success puts him in a strangely familiar place

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Anthony_game.jpgIn four games against the Utah Jazz in this year’s playoffs, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 34.5 points per game while shooting 52.6% from the field and grabbing seven rebounds a night. Yet his Denver Nuggets trail the Jazz 1-3 in the series after another loss last night, and Anthony’s 39-point, 11-rebound performance (though with nine turnovers, mind you) in a losing effort is an interesting indication of the path Carmelo’s career has taken. 

There was a point where Anthony himself was emblematic of all the Nuggets’ problems. They had talent — Andre Miller (and later Allen Iverson), Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Nene, and of course Anthony himself — but even in the rare instances when each member of Denver’s core was healthy at the same time, there were some serious question marks. Offensively, how could the team depend on a jumpshooter who had fallen in love with 20-footers? And on defense, why couldn’t a team of talented individual defenders establish themselves as an effective defensive unit?

Those types of questions seemed perpetual, and kept the Nuggets grounded. Anthony was a good player but hardly a great one, and his team was apparently ready to follow suit. In a lot of ways, Carmelo had no one to blame but himself. If he were only a more efficient scorer, a more focused defender, and a better leader, maybe the Denver Nuggets would have been a different team.

Then, in spite of worries that Anthony’s development may have stagnated, he’s done all of those things. He’s refined his offensive game and learned to exploit his incredible first step. He’s shown a willingness to defend the league’s elite scoring wings, and actually succeeded in doing so. He’s benefited from Chauncey Billups’ leadership, sure, but is also a huge part of why the Denver locker room is so confident — or laced with hubris, take your pick — at all times.

The only problem is that now, Anthony is so productive offensively that he’s not exactly the problem. His turnovers over the course of this series (he didn’t turn the ball over at all in Game 1, but has averaged six per game in the three subsequent losses) are absolutely painful, but they seem a bit more manageable given Carmelo’s touches and production. After all, Game 3 aside, the problem has not been the Nuggets lack of offense (Denver has averaged 111.95 points per 100 possessions for the series). Rather, it’s the team’s painfully ineffective defense (115.23 points per 100 possessions allowed) that could make Anthony’s volume scoring not long for this playoff world.

Anthony adapted, and he’s twice the individual player that he was earlier in his career. Okay, maybe more like 1.5 times the player he was. Yet the Nuggets again find themselves in more or less the same place; they’re talent-laden, but unable to work things out on the defensive end despite the number of talented individual defenders (Billups, Afflalo, Nene, Martin) on the team.

Should Denver drop Game 5 to Utah, it will be the fifth time in seven years that Carmelo and the Nuggets have lost the first round 1-4, with the only exceptions being last year’s run to the Conference Finals and their failure to win a single playoff game against the Lakers in 2008. Anthony has come so far in terms of his individual game, and on paper, the Nuggets have made serious strides in terms of their talent. Without any hope for a successful team defense, though, Denver is right back where they started in 2003.

  

 

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.