Kobe Bryant

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Where Andrew Bogut’s one arm is better than the Lakers

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What you missed while watching the Jib Jab year in review video

Bucks 98, Lakers 79: The Milwaukee Bucks came into this game averaging 100.2 points per 100 possessions — the worst offense in the NBA. They were without Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden. They were on the second night of a back-to-back. They had to play a Laker team whose defense has gotten better since Andrew Bynum’s return.

So can you explain that score to me? For one night the Bucks offensive rating was 119.5 points per 100 possessions.

Kobe Bryant was so frustrated he got ejected late (I think he can afford the coming fines). There are a litany of excuses the Lakers could use — looking ahead to the Heat, first game back after a long road trip, it’s been raining for days in Los Angeles and that throws everybody in the city off — but they just didn’t care.

And credit to the Bucks who did. They fought for rebounds and grabbed the offensive board on 39.4 percent of this missed shots. Earl Boykins dropped 22 and was a force in the fourth. Boykins provided some of the shot creation (mostly for himself, not others) and outside shooting the Bucks will miss with Jennings out. At least for one night.

Dallas 105, Magic 99: Entertaining game as both teams were on fire for stretches — Dallas a little more so shooting 46 percent from three on the night. And that’s what happened most of the night, Dallas was just a little bit better at most things.  When did Caron Butler learn to hit the three like that? He is shooting 43 percent on the season from beyond the arc, quite the jump from 29 percent last season or 32 percent for his career.

Stan Van Gundy is still experimenting — Hedo Turkoglu started and Brandon Bass came off the bench — but JJ Redick seems to thrive with this new look and find more space to shoot (he had 21). Dwight Howard played fantastically — he has had 20 or more rebounds in three straight — but overall the Mavs were just a little better.

Thunder 99, Bobcats 81: Two teams headed in opposite directions. If you haven’t noticed over the last 10 days to two weeks, Kevin Durant has his swagger back. He is an efficient scoring machine again. Proof? He had 32 points on 8-of-13 shooting and was 14-of-16 at the free throw line Tuesday.

Meanwhile, how desperate is Larry Brown in Charlotte? Kwame Brown started.

Nets 101, Grizzlies 94: Sometimes the box score can’t really tell you what happened in a game. And sometimes it tells you the Nets shot 52.6 percent, the Grizzlies 39.8 percent, and that is all you really need to know. Sasha Vujacic had 16 on 6 of 8 shooting.

Bulls 121, Sixers 76: When Kurt Thomas has 12 points and 5 blocks, you know it’s a thumping. This is the fourth game in a row the Bulls have won by as much as 17 points. This time it was against a Sixers team that had been playing pretty well of late but they took Tuesday off to finish their Christmas shopping, apparently. Sixers coach Doug Collins pretty much gave up on his guys in the fourth. The Bulls are 8-3 since Carlos Boozer returned.

Warriors 117, Kings 109 (OT): Oh, the Kings were so close to a win. The Kings were up 16 with 9 minutes to go and yet a Warriors team on the second night of a back-to-back went on an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter and a 5-0 run to close out the game and send it to overtime. Vladimir Radmanovic had the open catch-and-shoot three to send the game to extra time. NBA teams need to find a new level of execution late in games and the Kings get worse when pressured that way. They turned the ball over or missed good looks. They twice fouled guys taking threes late in the game. Just bad execution.

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.