NBA Playoffs: Nuggets continue to ignore defense, fall behind 3-1 to the Jazz

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The Nuggets have all the talent in the world, but they have seemed determined to squander it in their first-round series with the Jazz. First of all, they continued to let the Jazz score at will on Sunday. The Jazz scored 54 points in the paint, and added 30 points on free throws. That’s 84 points the Jazz were able to get without having to make a jump shot. The Nuggets were no slouches themselves, scoring 80 of their 106 points via points in the paint and free throws. But in the end, the Nuggets didn’t play enough defense to hold their early lead, and lacked the composure to get back in the game when they fell behind. 

The game started out just like the Nuggets wanted it to. They went to Carmelo early and often in low isolation. He answered the call by scoring in every way imaginable. He made hard drives to get himself to the line. He hit open jumpers. He posted up. He crashed the boards and got put-backs. He hit turnarounds in the lane. The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and looked like they might be able to execute and keep the Utah crowd out of the game. 
Then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer let the Nuggets know they didn’t plan on letting the Nuggets tie the series. The two combined to score nine points in two minutes to get the Jazz back in the game. and got the Utah crowd right back into the game. By the 3:00 mark of the first quarter, Utah had taken the lead. They didn’t give it back for the rest of the game.
Utah was able to get to front of the rim all game long against Denver. Boozer got whatever he wanted en route to 31 points on 13-19 shooting. There were ugly baskets. There were drives to the rim from the free-throw line. There were post-ups. There were put-backs. Deron Williams was consistently able to feed Boozer and the rest of the Jazz with bullet passes that led to layups from the three-point arc. Everything worked, and for the second straight game an undersized power forward tore the Nuggets’ interior D apart. 
Denver never threatened the lead because they were never able to string together stops. On top of that, they weren’t getting good shots, and Carmelo was the only reliable offensive option — the Nuggets only managed 13 assists on 37 field goals. For a high-octane team like the Nuggets to succeed, they have to be comfortable playing from behind. When the Nuggets got behind in Salt Lake, they alternated between panic and dejection. Now they find themselves in a 3-1 hole. 
The Jazz were also get production out of their wing players, while the Nuggets struggled to get anyone not named Anthony going from the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews scored 39 points on 26 shots; meanwhile, Billups/Smith/Lawson combined to go 12-32 from the floor. Billups’ struggles were particularly damning, as he never got his shot going, took control of the offense, or did anything to slow the Jazz down on defense. 
Deron Williams had a (relatively) quiet 24 points and 13 assists, but there was no mistaking that the game belonged to him. He set up his teammates with great looks, and whenever the Jazz needed a basket Williams got it. He’s carried the Jazz all series, and he’s making a strong case for himself as one of the absolute best players in the league. Thanks to him, the Jazz are on the verge of knocking off a team considered the #2 team in the West for most of the year, and are looking like a threat to any team they face in the next two rounds. (If the Lakers make it through, do you think Derek Fisher is looking forward to guarding this guy? Russell Westbrook has been tough enough.) 
The Nuggets have a great chance to turn this into a series with a win in Denver, and have the talent to compete for a title. However, they’re going to have to buckle down on both ends of the floor if they want to make a serious title run anytime soon. 

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).

Sixers enter camp with Joel Embiid not cleared for 5-on-5, Jahlil Okafor on trade block

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This is the season the 76ers make the leap from team with potential to playoff team fast on the rise.

Maybe.

That’s the plan in Philly, but there are a lot of questions for this team to answer. While a couple of these issues are answered already — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are cleared to play and practice with teammates — a couple big ones still hang around. At the top of the list is “how healthy is Joel Embiid?” Coach Brett Brown doesn’t even have that answer yet, reports Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

It’s this simple: The Sixers outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court last season, he was a dominant force defensively who scored 20.2 points a game. When he was off the court the Sixers were 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse. They need him to play and play consistently if the Sixers have playoff dreams. It’s unclear when Embiid will return, but know that the Sixers will be cautious with his minutes again when he does get cleared (he has played just 31 games in three seasons).

Does that mean more Jahlil Okafor? Maybe not, the Sixers are still willing to trade him.

The Sixers have shopped Okafor for most of a year and found no deal they like. Okafor battled knee issues last season and, after a summer working to get healthy, other teams will want to see him play a little before talking trade. If he comes to camp slimmed down and his knee looks right, it could revive trade talks. Using a back-to-the-basket game, he averaged 11.8 points a night shooting 51 percent last season, he’s efficient, and some teams could use what he does (off the bench).

It’s going to be an interesting season in Philly. Are they playoff bound?

Report: Warriors “perplexed” by Kevin Durant’s offseason fighting old battles

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Kevin Durant made his move to Golden State last summer — it was an emotional, wrenching decision for him — and it went as well as he could have dreamed. He felt at home. He’s got a ring (or will have one on opening night), he was Finals MVP, and he not only strengthened his legacy with a title, but also helped it out by taking a paycut that made it easier for the Warriors to keep their core together this summer.

So why is he living in the past? Why release a shoe line taking shots at his detractorsWhy did he blast his former organization on Twitter? Sure, he apologized, but why slide back down that rabbit hole? For that matter, why take a shot at Stephen Curry’s shoe line?

Chris Mannix at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said some with the Warriors are wondering the same thing.

But make no mistake: Many in Golden State, team officials and players alike, have taken note of Durant’s oddball offseason and are perplexed by it. They see a bright future for Durant in Oakland, league and team sources told The Vertical, and are bewildered as to why he is still addressing his past.

Oklahoma City will always be in Durant’s DNA, but it’s time for him to move on. Slapping around a team that was loyal to him, even in rejection, is a bad look. He’s a Warrior, and the possibilities for this Golden State team are endless. He can win championships, can win awards, can build one of the great dynasties in NBA history. The Thunder are doing their thing. Durant should forget about them, and do his.

This will all blow over. Soon the season will start, Durant and the Warriors will look dominant, and this will all seem like a minor distraction in the deadest part of the offseason. The focus will be on the rings.

But if you want an answer as to why, Durant’s response to a YouTube comment to someone who told him “who cares what other people think, just do you.” (Hat tip For the Win.)

…of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

Durant still can be a little immature, still wants to be a regular guy, and just like a regular guy he wants to be liked. And like a lot of people, he snaps at people when he knows he should just let it go and rise above. Maybe that will come with the lessons of this offseason.

Despite revoked passport, Enes Kanter says Thunder have arranged his travel to Mexico City, Toronto

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Thunder center Enes Kanter – who had passport revoked by Turkey – lacked documentation to travel for a December game against the Nets in Mexico City and a March game against the Raptors in Toronto.

Apparently, that issue has been resolved.

Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman:

Kanter said on Sunday that the team has worked out an arrangement to allow him to travel to games in Toronto and Mexico City even without a passport.

It always seemed highly likely Kanter would get to Toronto and Mexico City. He’s a high-profile millionaire working for a billion-dollar company.