Former Nuggets staffer acknowledges trade rumors hurt play

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It was pretty clear by the end that impacts of the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors had bled onto the court for the Denver Nuggets. They were not the same team that started the season, the one that seemed to have potential.

Dean Oliver was a former front office guy and staticiscian for Denver who last month swtiched jobs to write and work for ESPN. Writing for TrueHoop, he provided some interesting insight into how the trade rumors really hit the Nuggets. He said early on it was not bad — and the Nuggets were winning. That changed.

But on January 9, in the early minutes of a home game against New Orleans, news leaked out that hometown hero Chauncey Billups was to be included in a potential trade package to go to the Nets, along with Anthony. As a member of the Denver front office at the time, I was in the arena that night. (I left the Nuggets to join ESPN a few weeks before the Anthony trade.) If there was a time when it looked like the public trade talk started hurting the Nuggets, it was then.

Almost half the team’s players saw their names out there as potential ex-Nuggets. It’s hard to work when your future is that tenuous. It’s hard for coaches to push players who may not have a long-term future with the team.

That Sunday night, with a very negative buzz in the arena, the team crawled to a 96-87 loss. Before a similar trade with New York finally got done, the Nuggets went just 12-10.

Oliver, a stats guy — THE stats guy — knows that a teams emotional state plays a big role, and it has with the Nuggets post trade.

Denver coach George Karl got his “play hard” team, and that’s what the Nuggets did right away: play hard. Since the deal, Denver’s defense has been just a hair behind the Bulls for best in the entire NBA, allowing more than 10 points per 100 possessions fewer than before the deal…

On the offensive side of the ball, the emotional impact is also clear, as the team is sharing the ball very well. Most of the players are using between 17 percent and 22 percent of the team’s possessions, a far cry from when Melo was using 31 percent. Assisted baskets are up to 63 percent, from only 54 percent prior to the deal.

Oliver goes on to talk about things such as how Ty Lawson has always played better as a starter (which is one reason Raymond Felton comes off the bench) and how this trade has been a boon for him.

Come the playoffs, it’s still hard to see Denver knocking off one of the big four teams in the West. But whoever gets them in the first round is going to have to work hard to knock them off. And if the other team isn’t willing to work hard…. somebody is going to get upset in the West. Denver could be that team moving on.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”