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Nuggets, motivated by Bynum’s words, avoid elimination with Game 5 win over Lakers

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The Nuggets were facing elimination heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Staples Center, and as if seeing their season come to an end wasn’t motivation enough, Lakers center Andrew Bynum provided them with a little something extra, courtesy of comments he made at one of the team’s practice sessions before this one.

“Closeout games are actually kind of easy,” Bynum said. “Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.”

Nothing was easy for the Lakers, and we’ll never know what might have been had L.A. actually played hard from the start. They did not, and now the series will head back to Denver for a Game 6 after the Nuggets played with a sustained fire and energy for 48 minutes that earned them a 102-99 victory.

Andre Miller was masterful with the way he ran Denver’s offense, finishing with 24 points and eight assists in 28 minutes off the bench. JaVale McGee was an absolute monster, getting loose around the rim seemingly at will while finishing with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, to go along with 14 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots.

Denver held the lead for most of the night, and ran it up to 15 points — its largest of the game — with six-and-a-half minutes left. L.A. made a furious rally at that point behind four largely ridiculous three-pointers from Kobe Bryant, but ultimately couldn’t make it all the way back.

Bryant finished with 43 points, Bynum had a quiet 16 points and 11 rebounds, and no other Laker was able to impact this game on either end of the floor.

The Lakers, to a man, didn’t have an explanation for not coming out with enough energy and focus to match that of their opponent and close this series out. The Nuggets, however, were unified in detailing their motivation. And they agreed that Bynum’s comments provided just that.

“His feeling on closeouts is a little different than my history of being in them,” George Karl said afterward. “So I told my players that. ”

Mike Brown admitted what his All-Star center said could be construed as “bulletin-board material,” but didn’t necessarily have a problem with Bynum’s comments.

“It is bulletin board material,” he said. “If a guy wants to say that, in my opinion, he’s got to back it up. But we all have to get his back and try to help him back it up. We did not as a team.”

McGee admitted Bynum’s comments were motivational, but being in the playoffs for the first time in his career was likely a bigger reason for the way he came out and dominated in a potential elimination game.

“Usually I’m nowhere near the playoffs,” he said, referencing the fact that he played the past three and a half seasons for the dismal Washington Wizards, before the mid-season trade that brought him to Denver in March.

“My last game is usually, if it’s a regular season, in April,” he added. “I definitely didn’t want tonight to be my last game.”

He played like it. And so did his teammates, especially defensively. Denver stuck to its principles, sending hard double teams at Bynum all night long, doing the same against Pau Gasol, and daring the Lakers to be efficient with their ball movement before knocking down mid-range or three-point shots.

Until Bryant’s barrage late in the fourth, L.A. couldn’t hit anything from outside, so Denver was able to continue to pack the paint, making life miserable offensively for the Lakers’ bigs.

Kobe, as you might imagine, didn’t have a problem with Bynum’s comments that wound up being that last thing the Nuggets saw in their pregame film session. But ultimately, he knows that his team can’t pull a no-show in the playoffs, no matter where the other team’s motivation is coming from.

“That’s true, closeout games can be easy sometimes,” Bryant said, in temporary defense of his teammate. “But tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

“I don’t think it makes a difference,” Bryant said. “Did it pump them up? Probably. Were they going to come out and play with that kind of energy anyway? Probably. We didn’t execute and they obviously played harder than we did, so it’s a lesson to learn. You never want to give anybody bulletin material to begin with, but if you’re going to be a champion, you’ve got to play through that type of stuff.”

Bryant also didn’t believe that as a team, their energy magically appeared at some point late in the fourth quarter. He’s had performances like that too many times, and he’s been the one who’s had to personally drag his team back from the dead many more times than that.

“I wouldn’t say our energy kicked in in the fourth quarter,” he said. “I almost bailed us out. That’s what happened. It wasn’t an energy switch, I started making shots left and right and got us back in the ballgame. That’s not something that we can use to rely on to get us to a championship. It can’t be that. We all have to step up and we all have to contribute and we all have to play with that kind of energy and a sense of urgency.”

It’s better for the Lakers to get a grip on this now, in the first round, while they still hold a 3-2 lead in the series with two more chances to close out the Nuggets if absolutely necessary. Bryant pointed to the inexperience on his team as a possible reason for Tuesday’s poor showing, while mentioning the opportunity to gain that experience on the road in Game 6 in the very next breath.

“I’ve been in this position before, but a lot of guys on the team haven’t been in that position before,” he said. “It’s important to remind them that yeah, this sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got to go up there in a tough environment, gain some experience, and earn your stripes.”

The Nuggets know they’ve competed in all but one of the first five games of this series, and coming off a huge road win to save themselves from elimination — while having the opportunity in front of them to force a Game 7, where anything can happen — will likely be more than enough to get them going for Thursday’s Game 6 back in Denver.

Andrew Bynum and the rest of the Lakers would be wise not to give the Nuggets any additional motivation.

Watch Jamal Crawford drop an effortless 44, hit game winner at Seattle pro-am

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Jamal Crawford knows how to get buckets.

He does it against NBA level defenders, so put him in a free-flowing pro-am — let’s say the Seattle pro-am in his hometown — and he barely breaks a sweat dropping 44. And nailing the game winner.

Doc Rivers hopes to see a lot of that next season.

Report: Blazers re-sign Moe Harkless for four years, $40 million

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers walks back to the bench during a time out of their game against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 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 biggest restricted free agent left on the market is now off the board. Moe Harkless, who had a solid season in his first year in Portland, has agreed to a deal to return to the Blazers for four years, and $40 million, according to a report from The Vertical‘s Shams Charania:

It’s been an expensive offseason for the Blazers, who signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal and Festus Ezeli for two years and $16 million, as well as re-signing two more of their own free agents, Allen Crabbe (matching a four-year, $75 million offer sheet from Brooklyn) and Meyers Leonard (four years, $41 million). On Monday, they agreed to a four-year, $106 million max extension with C.J. McCollum that begins in the 2017-18 season.

They’re going to be in the luxury tax now, but after last year’s unexpected playoff run, Blazers GM Neil Olshey has decided to go all-in on this group and see if that success can be replicated. The fit of Turner is still a bit of a question mark, but the Blazers have kept their core together and should still be a playoff team in the Western Conference. If Paul Allen is willing to pay the luxury tax, and there’s nothing to indicate that he’s not, it’s worth it.

Amar’e Stoudemire signs with Knicks, retires

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks stands on the court in the first half of their game against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York City.  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 Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks in 2010, it was supposed to precede bigger things — both for New York and Stoudemire.

The Knicks were still in the running for fellow free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Stoudemire was just 27 and had already made an All-NBA first team and three second teams.

But it wasn’t to be.

LeBron and Wade picked the Heat. Stoudemire had only one monster season in New York before being overcome by injuries. After teaming up with Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire won just one playoff series with the Knicks.

Stoudemire returns to New York, but this time, there are no grand expectations. Just a quiet ending.

Knicks release:

NBA great Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement as a player in the National Basketball Association today, after signing with the New York Knickerbockers for his final contract in the league.

“I want to thank Mr. Dolan, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] for signing me so that I can officially retire as a New York Knick,” Stoudemire said. “I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil and Steve have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

Stoudemire might think of himself as a Knick, but many of us will remember him with the Suns. He spent eight — and most of his best seasons — in Phoenix.

Entering the NBA straight from high school, Stoudemire faced numerous questions about his maturity and readiness. He answered those by winning Rookie of the Year.

Eventually, Stoudemire became the center for Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns, thrashing opponents inside with Steve Nash as a pick-and-roll partner. Stoudemire got a bigger stage in New York, but his body broke down, and he became known for his albatross contract.

He spent the last couple seasons with the Mavericks and Heat, seemingly erasing memories of his early dominance.

Stoudemire has a decently strong Hall of Fame case. At his peak, he was in the running for the league’s best center behind Shaquille O’Neal. Retiring at age 33 won’t give Stoudemire many longevity points, but because he jumped straight from high school, he still played 14 pro seasons.

As distance grows between Stoudemire’s career and the present, we’ll gain perspective and think more about his prime than his decline. History will treat Stoudemire well.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.