Nene Hilario, Andrew Bynum

Nuggets win over Lakers should get Thunder’s attention

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With just 10 days of NBA games remaining, some first round playoff matchups are pretty much set. Out West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are almost certainly getting the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Sunday Denver beat the Lakers by outworking them, being more scrappy, playing good defense and moving the ball on offense (95-90 was the final score). They have beaten the Celtics and Spurs the same way since the All-Star break.

The Thunder have more size and more talent, they are more athletic. But Nuggets are going to make it very tough to beat them four times out of seven. This is a good team. And if the Thunder don’t bring it and are looking ahead to the second round they will not get there.

What the Nuggets did to the Lakers was not a thing of beauty. The first half was ragged, with the Lakers length giving Denver some trouble, the Nuggets activity giving the Lakers some trouble, and both teams just missing a lot of good looks.

Denver shot 29.5 percent for the first half and the Lakers led 47-40 at the break despite having an offensive rating of just 95.9 (points per 100 possessions). Kobe Bryant hit 4-of-6 in the second quarter and had 19 points for the half (28 for the game). Danilo Gallinari had 18 in the first half for Denver and finished with 22.

The game remained close in the third but at the start of the fourth Denver’s bench executed better than the Lakers. And that better execution continued through the fourth quarter.

Denver was able to use 18 Laker turnovers for the game and a lot of missed shots to get out and run — the game had 97 possessions. That’s faster than the Lakers want to play, but just where the Nuggets like it.

The old Nuggets, when the game got tight, you could count on a Carmelo Anthony isolation and the Lakers would bring a big man over to the strong side early, a defense that usually allowed them to stop Denver late. But now Raymond Felton is hitting a cutting Kenyon Martin with a sharp pass and Denver is getting layups.

The Lakers played the end of the game without Andrew Bynum, who tweaked his knee and was kept out for what the team called “precautionary reasons.” (Both Bynum and Pau Gasol will have MRIs on their knees Monday after both had tweaks.)

The result was that with the Lakers down 3 and 11 seconds to go, Nene missed a free throw but Martin just outmuscled Lamar Odom, got the rebound and tipped it in. That was the dagger.

The Lakers had been sloppy in their previous game at Utah, the Jazz just don’t have the team that can make them pay. The loss ended the Lakers nine-game win streak. The loss, combined with a Spurs win over the Suns, makes it less likely the Lakers can catch the Spurs for the top seed in the West.

Denver was just the scrappier, hungrier team but they also are playing good team basketball right now. There are a lot of teams that, if they shared the ball like Denver is doing right now, if they were working as hard on defense, would be a lot better.

Denver is going to be a very tough out in the playoffs. They are capable of beating anyone. Oklahoma City is a better team on paper and will have the two best players in that series on their team. But if they don’t focus and execute, Denver will be the team moving on from that series.

Nets’ Greivis Vasquez pulls out of Olympics for Venezuela

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Greivis Vasquez #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks takes the court against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Bucks 103-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Venezuela is in its first Olympic basketball tournament in more than 20 years — they upset Canada and Argentina to win the FIBA Americas tournament last summer and earned the right to go to Rio.

But they are going to have to play there without the one NBA player on their roster. Greivis Vasquez, who had ankle surgery last December, announced he had to pull out, via the Nets.

If you want to know what this means for the Venezuelan team heading into Rio, well, they shot just 23.9 percent in an 80-45 loss to Team USA Friday night in Chicago — and that was by far the USA’s worst performance in the exhibition run-up to the Rio Games.

Vasquez should be getting decent minutes off the bench behind Jeremy Lin in Brooklyn this season. They need him healthy as the team tries to move from “god awful” to just plain “not good” next season.

Report: Monty Williams to accept role on Spurs coaching staff next season

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Another smart move by the Spurs.

Monty Williams is one of the better assistant coaches in the NBA right now, and he was available (remember he understandably left Oklahoma City last season after the tragic death of his wife). He’s part of Mike Krzyzewski’s staff with USA Basketball this summer — watch him in practices at age 44 and he’s a better defender plenty of players in the league — and he wanted to get back on the bench.

San Antonio has snapped him up, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.

The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.

One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.

Williams will get another shot in the big chair down the line. In the short term, this is a smart move — nothing looks better on a resume than “Spurs” around the league right now.

Team USA has sing-along on plane leaving Chicago. Well, except for ‘Melo.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States Men's National Team looks on during player intro duction prior to playing the China Men's National Team in a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Team USA had their “Tiny Dancer” moment.

Like “Stillwater” in Almost Famous, Team USA’s Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Kyrie Irving were leading a sing-along of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” on the team plane out of Chicago to Houston for the USA’s final exhibition game. Hat tip Alysha Tsuji who pulled the snapchats.

Everyone was loving it… except for Carmelo Anthony, according to DeMar DeRozan.

Melo ain't having it…😂

A video posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.