Russell Westbrook

Baseline to Baseline recaps: No Durant, no problem for OKC.

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What you missed while playing ‪Manny Pacquiao’s Punchout‬…

Thunder 89, Celtics 84: No Kevin Durant. No Jeff Green. The Thunder missed their last 15 shots from the field. And they still handed Boston its first loss of the season at home. Part of it, as it has been all season with Oklahoma City, is free throws — they got 32 and made 27 of them (Boston was 17 of 27). But a bigger part was just effort — Boston played like a team that thought they should win easily, the Thunder played hard and desperate. It wasn’t a pretty fourth quarter, but this result was deserved for both sides.

Bulls 88, Mavericks 83: Dallas did not keep Chicago off the glass in this one — the Bulls had 20 offensive rebounds, meaning they got a second chance on 44.4 percent of their missed shots. Eight of those offensive boards belonged to Taj Gibson, who had a huge night with 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Also, Caron Butler is just flat out not playing well.

Heat 95, Bobcats 87: This was one of those games where the Heat got the win but didn’t really look good doing it. Lots of isolation basketball, they shot 6-33 from beyond 16 feet (which is way too many jump shots, something they do a lot) and they played to the Bobcats style. But, the Heat were the better team on the boards, they created more turnovers then turned those into some transition points, and they got to the line enough to win against a good defense. Charlotte had a nice effort but just did not have the players.

Lakers 112, Timberwolves 95: Why is it so hard to beat the Lakers? Because they have Kobe and Gasol, sure, but then one night Matt Barnes rises up and goes 5-5 from three, 7-7 overall and puts up 24 off the bench. Now, if Kurt Rambis wanted to bench Kevin Love in this one — no points on 0-7 shooting, 7 boards — nobody would have blamed him. Ron Artest flat out dominated Love. Lakers go 3-0 on a Midwest road trip.

Sixers 90, Bucks 79: Just a horrible shooting game, but the Bucks were worse — 33.8 percent overall, 0-12 from three. You don’t beat anybody shooting like that.

Raptors 106, Rockets 96: Toronto’s bench outscored Houston’s 46-11. Throw in an 11-17 shooting night and 26 points from Andrea Bargnani and you have yourself a Raptors win.

Wizards 89, Grizzlies 86: Still no Wall but the Wizards were the more aggressive team trying to get to the basket, as a result they shot 35 free throws to the Grizzlies 18. Gilbert Arenas had 24 points, Kirk Hinrich 22. More impressively, Arenas was defending hard on OJ Mayo all night, held him to 1-11 shooting.

Hornets 108, Cavaliers 101: Workman like Hornets win, where they had an 18-2 run late in the first half that essentially iced the game. Cleveland’s starters scored 36 points, the bench 65. David West almost outscored the Cavs starters himself with 34.

Spurs 94, Jazz 82: In a bit of irony, Tim Duncan became the Spurs all time leading scorer on a free throw. Vintage Spurs down the stretch in this one, with Tony Parker getting in the lane then passing out to Richard Jefferson for a three or Tim Duncan for the midrange. The Spurs may be the hottest team going right now.

Kings 86, Nets 81: Questions that can never really be answered: Did the Kings finally play some good defense or is New Jersey just that bad on offense?

Knicks 125, Warriors 119: Really entertaining game — mostly because nobody played a lick of defense. Fast pace, so we had Raymond Felton with 35 for the Knicks, Monta Ellis with 40 for the Warriors. In a game without defense the Knicks just shot a little better (which is unexpected, but there you go).

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.