Rudy Gay; Mike Conley

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Where the Cavs and Raptors almost got wins. Almost.

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What you missed while planning to your trip to Flavor Flav’s new fried chicken restaurant in Iowa (Yo! Bum Rush the Restaurant)….

Nets 103, Cavaliers 101: To lose 17 in a row takes a combination of bad luck and very bad execution at the end of the game. There was plenty of bad execution on both sides at the end of this one, but that made it oddly entertaining.

Joey Graham was almost a hero for the Cavaliers. Down three late the Cavs ran their set and New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow slid down to stand in the paint to help on penetration when the only thing the Nets needed to avoid was giving up a three. He left Graham open and he nailed it from the corner. Tie game but with plenty of time for the Nets to run a final set.

New Jersey’s plan is to get the ball into Brook Lopez, and they do. Cleveland’s plan in this case to foul Lopez so they get one last shot to win or tie — Ryan Hollins tries to foul Lopez by slapping his back. It was sadly comical. That’s not going to get you the call at this point in the game, not even close (you’ve got to wrap the guy up, Hollins). Lopez ignores the slaps, gets into the middle and hits a jump hook to put New Jersey up two with 1.4 seconds left. Daniel Gibson had a decent look three that almost fell for Cleveland, but it hit the iron and the Nets got the win.

Grizzlies 100, Raptors 98: Another game that went right down to the wire — but Memphis has a legit end of game option in Rudy Gay. Tie game at 98-98 late, Memphis has a final shot and the call was Gay in isolation from the top of the key — he executed it like a max-deal guy. He waited, drove deep right until he was level with the basket then pulled up and nailed the 14-foot baseline jumper with .05 left. Big time play. The Grizzlies Marc Gasol had a good game against what passes for the interior defense of the Raptors, scoring 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds.

Sixers 105, Suns 95: The Suns made a late 11-0 run to make this look a lot closer than it was. These are two teams heading in opposite directions (the Sixers aren’t great but you can see improvement). Thaddeus Young had a good game in the win — 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting plus seven boards and five dimes. Free Steve Nash!

Pistons 103, Magic 96: Orlando is one of the league’s better defensive teams, the Pistons one of the worst offenses, yet Detroit scored at a ridiculously good 114.4 points per 100 possessions in this one. The Pistons wing players were key — Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye each had 20 points. What mattered more, as a team the Pistons only had 6 turnovers, 10 fewer than the Magic. You kids at home, remember to take care of the ball.

Knicks 115, Wizards 106: Flip Saunders needs to just sit Andray Blatche on nights like this. Some nights he’s fantastic, but on nights like this the Wizards are just better off with someone — anyone — off the bench. Saunders got desperate enough to run out a lineup of Mustafa Shakur, Al Thornton, Rashard Lewis, Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee — and it worked. Better than the starters. Made of game of it, but at the end of the day the Knicks are better.

Rockets 129, Timberwolves 125: Minnesota lets teams take a lot of threes (fourth most in the league) and they don’t defend it well (teams shoot 38.5 percent from three this season, fourth worst in the leauge). In a close game, the 14-of-30 from Houston three and Kevin Martin earning 18 free throws were really the key.

Bulls 92, Bucks 83: The best defense in the league against the worst offense in the league — how did you think this would end?

Hornets 91, Thunder 89: First things first — Chris Paul did leave at the end with what looked like a sprained ankle but he said later it was fine. We’ll take him at his word. For now.

As for the game, it certainly didn’t look like the Hornets were the hot team early with the Thunder up 14 in the first quarter. But these Hornets are nothing if not resilient. They battled back while the Thunder had 17 turnovers — 20 percent of their possessions. If Thunder fans want to blame something for the loss, blame that (and the fact two of those turnovers were in the last 14 seconds of the game).

Meanwhile with it tied 89-89 the Hornets beautifully executed their last shot. Chris Paul was sitting so it fell to David West, who got it up near the three point line, drove to he elbow, pulled up and hit the 18-foot fade away for the lead with 0.5 on the clock. Ballgame.

Kings 96, Trail Blazers 81: The tape of this game is not headed to Springfield and the Hall of Fame — it was not pretty. In the least. But when it got tight late the Kings got a big three from Tyreke Evans, a great tip in from Omri Casspi, solid defense from Samuel Dalembert. All the injuries have caught up with Portland. The effort is there, but you can only lose so many key guys.

Spurs 113, Warriors 102: The two best three point shooting teams by percentage in the league so we expected some real fireworks… 10-of-30 combined shooting by these teams from deep. Disappointing.

David Lee was just on fire from the midrange and finished with 31 points on 19 shots. The Warriors starters played well but the depth of the Spurs was key here — the Spurs bench outscored Golden State 46-14 (and 8 of those Warrior bench points were in garbage time).

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.