What now for the Nuggets? Playoff push or fast trades?

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Congratulations Denver.

Sure, having your star player and face of the franchise force his way out of town doesn’t feel like something to be congratulated over, but there is the silver lining you keep hearing about — at least you’re not Cleveland. That’s got to make you feel better, right? You got something in return at least.

Maybe it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s sort of true. You got some nice role players — Raymond Felton is a quality point guard, Danilo Gallinari can shoot, Wilson Chandler has real game, Timofey Mozgov is tall and sets a nice screen.

But what that means now — and by now we mean in the next 24 hours — is the Nuggets front office has another serious question to answer:

How important is it for Denver to make the playoffs?

How you answer that determines what you do between now and the deadline.

As of Wednesday morning the Blazers, Hornets and Nuggets are tied for the 5 to 7 slots in the West, with Utah 1.5 games back in the 8 slot and the Grizzlies half a game behind the Jazz in the nine slot. The Suns are 2 games back of the Grizzlies in 10th.

If you are going to make a playoff push — and George Karl wants to — then you keep Nene and Gallinari, you give Chandler lots of minutes. You hope that Portland slips against its tough schedule the rest of the way.

And the Nuggets may be leaning this way — according to Marc Spears at Yahoo the Nuggets plan to offer Nene a contract extension, not trade him away. That will be for about five years, $50 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Which seems about right based on what Joakim Noah and Al Horford got.

But Wojnarowski adds that Nene is intrigued by how he would fit in with Oklahoma City. And that would be intriguing. The Thunder only need a couple pieces and a big like Nene is one of them. It has to be tempting. Other tempting teams need a big too, like Miami.

Then there is Gallinari, which has the Clippers dangling a pretty good first round pick to get. If you want to make a playoff run you need to keep him. If you are going to dive headlong into rebuilding mode you move him and get parts.

Same with J.R. Smith, who has drawn interest. You likely flip Raymond Felton either way, because you have Ty Lawson so you don’t really need another point guard.

But the question is out there Denver. You’re going deep into rebuilding mode at some point, but you’re in position to make a playoff push and get in. Get a couple home playoff games (but you won’t last that long against the Spurs/Mavericks/Lakers). Is it worth it, or do you start the rebuilding now?

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.