Nuggets management figures out it has to trade Carmelo Anthony. Finally.

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What you and I figured out months ago, what Carmelo Anthony’s people have been telling the Nuggets front office privately since this summer, has finally sunk in with Denver’s decision makers.

Carmelo Anthony is leaving, and you can trade him now or watch him walk for nothing next July. So Denver is going to get serious about trading him, Ken Berger reports at CBSSports.

The Nuggets have all but decided to trade Anthony if he does not sign an extension with the team by the trade deadline, and Denver’s management team believes Anthony is fully prepared to play out the season and become a free agent, multiple sources told CBSSports.com….

Executives believe the Nuggets have decided they would like to receive the best possible package of young players and are not interested in stopgap options that would hamper their flexibility. Acquiring a high-priced veteran player — such as Andre Iguodala, whose talent the Nuggets value but not his contract — would only hurt the team’s ability to build around youth while maintaining payroll flexibility into the uncertainty of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Nets’ package of 2010 No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, guard Devin Harris, the expiring contract of Kris Humphries and two first-round picks remains the most attractive option to the Nuggets, sources say.

Somewhere Bret Bearup is laughing.

He was the advisor to outgoing owner Stan Kronke who was pushed aside by incoming owner Josh Kronke — the son of Stan who has worked in the Nuggets front office — and Masai Ujiri. It was Bearup who pushed for the four-team trade that fell apart this summer because others in Denver wanted to try and convince Anthony to stay, and they weren’t sure exactly what they wanted back.

Now they do, they want young players and to rebuild. But remember that Anthony holds a hammer here — teams will only trade for him if he will sign an extension. The signals on if he would for the Nets are unclear, but he may not

He wants to go to New York with the Knicks, but they don’t really have quality young players to give, unless you think Anthony Randolph is just about to figure it all out. We’re kind of off that train, but maybe you are still riding it. Denver is off it, too.

Of course, the other question is should the Knicks even want him? They are playing good, efficient basketball of late — against a soft schedule, sure but they are winning — and do they want Anthony and his love of shooting a contested long two pointer in their offense now?

But what the Knicks really need is talent, and Anthony has that. So they’ll take him. And they are the one group that has played it smart and waited it out, now it all may fall into place for them.

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.