NBA Preview: Denver Nuggets

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Last season: 53-29, tied them for the four seed in the West, but without George Karl on the sidelines (due to cancer treatments) they got bumped off in six games by a Mehmet Okur-less Jazz team.

Head Coach: George Karl is back after missing the second half of last season ad the playoffs battling throat cancer. There is nobody in the league we are all happier to see back and working than him.

Key Departures: Carmelo Anthony… wait not yet. Soon the court just Johan Petro and Joey Graham, which are not really that big a loss.

Off the court the changes were big — gone are Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman, who were the decision makers. In their place comes Masai Ujiri. But the real power is Josh Kronke, the former Missouri basketball player and son of current owner Stan Kronke. Stan is buying the St. Louis Rams and has to sell the Nuggets, so Josh will get them. Josh worked his way up through the Nuggets front office and he (along with advisor Bret Bearup) should be the ultimate decision maker for this franchise.

Key Additions: Al Harrington, constant swirling trade rumors

Best case scenario: Carmelo Anthony is not traded, has a huge season, the Nuggets stay healthy and they return to the Western Conference finals, where they were a couple years ago. Karl has said the “final four” is the goal, and we’re going to assume he didn’t mean the Nuggets were being relegated to the NCAA.

For that to happen: Carmelo Anthony has to not only stay in Denver, it situation needs to stop being a distraction. Meaning he needs to sign the extension and get his teammates to rally around him for another big run.

If Anthony did that, Denver has the talent to be a force once they get Kenyon Martin back healthy later this season. This is a good, consistent roster. Karl can mold them. Harrington will be a boost up front, Billups may be getting up there but he still has plenty of game. There are good young players like Ty Lawson to add some energy. You can see how a run comes together with this unit…

Not going to happen. Never say never, but Anthony signing that extension and not being a distraction seems like a crazy long shot right now.

And if Anthony is not going to be back — how do you predict how good this team is? With him in house and focused the Nuggets are a team that wins in the low 50s in games, that is on that second tier in the West. Final four could happen. But is Anthony going to sign an extension for a maybe final four? Seems he is intent on pushing his way out.

The real question is how the Nuggets front office decides to go about a trade. The reports are now they are pushing in trade talks for players that will keep them in the playoffs now as well as picks and young players to rebuild with. Basically the best of both worlds – getting that is about as likely as Anthony signing his extension.

The smart move seems to be to trade Anthony for good young players and picks, then do the same with Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Nene. Rebuild from the ground up. If handled right there would be a stockpile of players and picks and the rebuilding would be off to a fast start.

You can’t rebuild on the fly, rebuild without a huge drop-off, unless you are a team willing to spend well over the luxury tax to do it. Denver is not that market.

More likely the Nuggets will: Be disappointing. To use the words of PBT’s own Rob Mahoney, one way or another it will likely be disappointing.

They probably trade Anthony, followed by a trade of Billups at least. They will get some players back — this is Anthony, he’s a big chip — but essentially the Nuggets will at some point this season decide they have to get something for Anthony so they don’t end up like Cleveland or Toronto.

Prediction: 41-41. But that is a wild guess. If the core stays together all season they win 50, if they trade Anthony before the season starts it could be more like 30 wins. Who knows? So we split the difference.

Steve Kerr has now reached 200 wins faster than any coach in NBA history

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr already has a championship under his belt as a coach. Now the 51-year-old former NBA player has reached another milestone in an already decorated career as a player and coach. After the Warriors beat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, 113-106, Kerr became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 200 wins.

Kerr hit the mark in just 238 career games. His seasons at the helm of Golden State have produced just 38 losses — 15, 9, and 14 over the last three years, respectively.

In doing so, Kerr surpasses the mark set by former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Congratulations are in order to Kerr and the Warriors. It’s certainly a huge accomplishment, and the lack of losses is dizzying to think about.

Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Heat all help their playoff causes

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Tuesday was a big night for playoff chase games, so much so that the Wizards clinching the division title — their first since 1979 — or the bad night for the Pacers dropping them to seventh in the East didn’t even make the cut here. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) In a battle of elite offenses, Warriors’ defense gets them key win in the race for the top seed. Wednesday night comes the game that will get a lot of media attention — Golden State heads into San Antonio in a battle of the two top teams in the NBA. The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the West and all of basketball, any hope they have of catching Golden State requires a win tonight.

Except it may too late for the Spurs — with their win Tuesday night, the Warriors made it tough to catch them. Fivethirtyeight.com now has Golden State with a 93 percent chance to retain the top seed in the West.

Golden State held on to beat Houston on the road Tuesday, 113-106, in a battle of the NBA’s top two offenses. However, it was Golden State’s elite defense that was the difference — the Warriors held the Rockets to 38.8 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three. The Warriors crowd Harden with multiple defenders, and while he still puts up numbers — he had a triple-double in this game — he’s not as efficient.

Not that there wasn’t an offensive show, between Harden’s triple-double and Stephen Curry dropping 32 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Those two put on a show.

Golden State raced out to a fast lead and pushed that margin up to 22 by getting stops (and the Rockets just missing looks, they were 2-of-16 from deep in the first 24 minutes), then turning their defensive stops into transition buckets. Credit the Rockets because they battled back, started getting to the line, grinding a little, and by halftime it was just an eight-point Golden State lead. The game stayed in single digits through most of the second half, but the Warriors always kept the lead, and with a little push late got the win.

Which brings us back to the showdown Wednesday with San Antonio. If the Spurs win, they will be 1.5 games behind the Warriors, one game back in the loss column, with seven to play. The Spurs will have the tie breaker, but San Antonio would still need to win out (and Gregg Popovich has said he will rest players) and hope Golden State loses again (they have now won eight in a row heading into San Antonio). Certainly not impossible, but also not likely. By at least getting a split in their Texas two-step, the Warriors have probably earned themselves the top seed in the West.

2) Portland beats Denver, essentially ending the Nuggets’ playoff dreams. This wasn’t a must-win game for Denver in the purest sense — the Nuggets are mathematically alive for the eighth seed, just one game back of the Trail Blazers.

However, in the practical world, Tuesday night was a must-win game for the Nuggets.

And the Trail Blazers beat them. Beat then because of the guy Denver traded them at the deadline — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points plus pulled down 16 rebounds, six offensive. After the game, he wasn’t shy telling his former team to enjoy their summer.

Going into the game Portland and Denver were tied for the eighth seed in the West, the final playoff spot. With the win, the Nuggets are one game up and have the tie-breaker, so it is, in essence, a two-game lead with eight to play. The challenge for Denver is six of their eight games are on the road, while Portland has just two of their eight away from home.

Fivethirtyeight.com now has the Blazers a 92 percent chance to make the postseason, the Nuggets get 8 percent. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

3) Hassan Whiteside’s tip in keeps Heat in eighth seed, all but ends Detroit’s playoff hopes. This one play was the dagger shot to Detroit’s playoff chances. They had what amounted to a must-win game Tuesday against Miami, the Pistons needed one stop at the end, and this happened.

If I’m Stan Van Gundy, what keeps me up is not even the Hassan Whiteside tip-in, it’s little Goran Dragic pulling down the first rebound in and amongst the trees. How do you let him get that?

It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing game that caps off a disappointing season in Detroit. This team should be better than this, but here we are.  Detroit is now 2.5 games out of the playoffs with seven games to play. That’s too much. Fivethirtyeight.com has Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs at 1 percent.

Miami, on the other hand, has a 74 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the same site. The Heat’s biggest concern should be they are just one game ahead of Chicago for that last playoff spot, and the Bulls have a softer ending to the season (Miami’s last four games are Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and Washington, although those teams could be resting guys at that point).

Blazers’ Noah Vonleh posterizes Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic with huge dunk (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night’s game between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers was an important one. The two teams are fighting for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers have been on the rise as of late, and the atmosphere at the Moda Center was electric.

While much of the talk was about Jusuf Nurkić, Mason Plumlee, and Nikola Jokic thanks to the trade between the two teams, it was actually Portland’s Noah Vonleh that got people talking early.

During a play midway through the first quarter, Vonleh threw down a huge dunk that posterized Jokic.

Via Twitter:

Vonleh has played much better alongside Nurkić this season, and Portland fans are all hoping he continues to develop going into next year. This kind of confidence and aggressiveness is just part of what the Blazers will need from Vonleh moving forward.

Stephen Curry’s 32 lead Warriors over Rockets 113-106

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HOUSTON (AP) Stephen Curry scored 32 points, Klay Thompson had 25 and the Golden State Warriors built a big lead early and held on for a 113-106 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The Warriors scored 37 points in the first quarter and never trailed on the way to their eighth straight victory and 60th this season.

Golden State led by eight after a pair of free throws by Curry with just over three minutes left. Patrick Beverley countered with a tip-in layup for Houston, then was fouled when he was knocked to the ground on a screen by Draymond Green seconds later.

James Harden missed a layup on the next possession before Green added a shot on the other end to put the Warriors up 107-99.

Another layup miss by Harden followed, and Curry made a 3-pointer with 1:46 left to send fans streaming to the exits.