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.

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings,  and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).