Denver Nuggets v Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Playoffs: Denver tries to rediscover itself in Game 3 versus Thunder

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The Nuggets are coming apart. They were wiped off the floor in Game 2 of a series they were supposed to be competitive in. J.R. Smith started saying J.R Smith things and now there’s a question of whether all that momentum of Game 1 was a figment of their imagination, or some fantasy concocted by those who like story lines more than actual basketball. For the Thunder, that proverbial “playoff gear?” It would appear they’ve hit it. If Game 1 showed what they could accomplish with only contributions from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Game 2 showed the danger of the Thunder at full operational capacity.

The Nuggets have to find a level of defense they haven’t really performed at all season. They were 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed, and while the numbers improved after the trade of Carmelo Anthony, they didn’t improve enough to skyrocket the team into a good defensive position. They don’t turn you over at a high rate, nor do they won the glass, with one of the lowest offensive rebounding rates in the league. The Thunder defensively haven’t been as good as last year, but they do have the fundamental principles to play playoff basketball. The  Nuggets have instead gotten away from the positive emotional tone they set down the stretch, and that’s been exacerbated by matchups.

The key for Denver is to get even contributions from all their players. They can’t afford a dip in production from player to player. No one has to be, nor can be relied upon to go off in a game, but they can’t simply disappear, either. J.R. Smith has been a no-show, and while Kenyon Martin and Birdman Anderson can’t be expected to contribute heavily, as they’re there mostly for defense in the lane, which they haven’t been great either, they have to give something.

Aaron Afflalo is expected to return for the Nuggets, and he could help, particularly with defense of James Harden, who blistered the Nuggets in Game 2. At the root of all of it, though, is emotion. The Nuggets have to feed on the home crowd and the “us against the world” approach they took after the trade. OKC is in the new position of being the favorites, up two games to none. They still need to take that attitude of fierceness, however. Slacking off and Denver will seize the opportunity. This series looks firmly in control of the Thunder. But series like this can change so quickly, they had better not leave anything to chance.

Evan Fournier pokes fun at his ‘NBA 2K’ likeness

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 07:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 7, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The release of NBA 2K17, the latest edition of the popular 2K video-game series, is less than a month away. Players are starting to get their likenesses in the game, as well as their player ratings, and tweet them out. Magic forward Evan Fournier wasn’t too happy with the way his came out.

Fournier’s countryman Rudy Gobert got in on the fun, too, changing his Twitter avatar to Fournier’s screenshot and encouraging others to do the same. He even created a hashtag for it.

At least they’re having fun with it.

Report: Sixers expected to waive Tibor Pleiss after trade with Jazz

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Tibor Pleiss #21 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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On Friday, the Jazz traded German center Tibor Pleiss to the Sixers along with two second-round picks for Kendall Marshall. The big draw of the trade for Philly was the picks, and Pleiss is not expected to stay with the Sixers, according to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Jessica Camerato.

Pleiss had a forgettable season with Utah, and the Sixers have a glut of bigs including Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. It would have been virtually impossible for Pleiss to crack the rotation, and it’s unlikely another team picks up his contract, which has $3 million guaranteed this season.

Jordan releases new Russell Westbrook ad, may include a shot at Kevin Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (L) and Russell Westbrook #0 look on during a press conference after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 108-101 in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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As a Jordan Brand athlete, Russell Westbrook is under the same Nike umbrella as former teammate Kevin Durant. But his latest Jordan spot, released Friday, has a very pointed tagline: “Some run, some make runways.”

Given the circumstances, it’s hard to interpret that as anything other than a reference to Durant signing with the Warriors and Westbrook signing an extension with the Thunder.

Kobe Bryant on how teams should see Warriors: “‘OK, lace ’em up. Let’s go.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 03:  Retired NBA Champion, CEO, Kobe Inc., Kobe Bryant speaks onstage during 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton on May 03, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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For two decades, Kobe Bryant saw everyone and everything as an obstacle to overcome: The Pacers, Sixers, Nets, Magic, Celtics, Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, Smush Parker, a torn Achilles. It didn’t matter. Kobe’s work ethic and drive had him rising above it all.

His focus hasn’t changed now. Kobe was on the Jim Rome show, and the topic of the new-look Warriors with Kevin Durant came up, along with the “woe is me” attitude of some players (and plenty of owners and GMs).

“I would have thought less about myself if I looked at that move and said, ‘That’s unfair,'” he said. “If you’re a real competitor, you look at that and say, ‘OK, lace ’em up. Let’s go. I don’t care how many players you have over there; we’re still going to take you down.'”

Easier said than done to make that happen, but that attitude is the only one to have if you think you have a chance. You can be sure LeBron James is thinking that way and telling his Cavaliers teammates the same.

We’re going to miss Kobe.