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.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.

Devin Booker’s 3-point-contest victory bright spot for Suns (video)

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Los Angeles – Devin Booker‘s Suns have the NBA’s worst record (18-41).

“I think everyone is fed up with the losing, from the top to the bottom of the organization,” Booker said this afternoon. “So, for us, it’s what’s next?”

A 3-point contest victory.

Overcoming Phoenix’s poor record to draw an invite to All-Star Saturday Night, Booker won the 3-point contest with a whopping 29 points in the final round.

That score left little margin for 2016 champion Klay Thompson, who capped the event with a 25-point round that was otherwise the night’s high. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in his new home arena, finished third.

Booker was all smiles after the rare victory.

“Season not going how we planned, but I know a lot of the city was ready for this All-Star Weekend, having somebody participate,” Booker said. “So, I’m glad I could win it.

Where he and the Suns go from here is still questionable, but he has a plan.

“I’m going to win the dunk contest next year,” Booker said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Full results

First round

Klay Thompson 19

Devin Booker 19

Tobias Harris 18

Wayne Ellington 17

Bradley Beal 15

Eric Gordon 12

Kyle Lowry 11

Paul George 9

Second round

Devin Booker 29

Klay Thompson 25

Tobias Harris 17

Spencer Dinwiddie not just happy to be here, wins All-Star Skills Contest

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LOS ANGELES — Anyone who knew the Spencer Dinwiddie story knew not to count him out when he looked down.

That was true when at Colorado he had played his way into the first round of the draft, maybe the 2014 lottery, until an ACL injury derailed him. He had to battle back from a devastating injury, push his way back through the then D-League to the NBA, and wait for his chance. When he got it this season in Brooklyn (after the Jeremy Lin injury) he grabbed it and has had a quality NBA season for the Nets.

So when Dinwiddie was behind the Kings’ Buddy Hield in the first round of the All-Star Saturday Night Skills Contest, he needed a little help. Dinwiddie got it when Hield missed his first three (you have to close out the race with a made three), Dinwiddie caught up and drained his on a pull-up jumper.

Forget the fact Dinwiddie is shooting 28.5 percent on pull-up threes this season, he did the same thing to Jamal Murray in the semi-finals.

Dinwiddie boat raced Bulls’ rookie Lauri Markkanen in the finals when the big man struggled with the passing skill and got so far behind it was over.

“It’s big for me to even be at All-Star Weekend considering the road that’s been in my career, very up and down, Dinwiddie said. “Obviously being in the G-League both on assignment and as a G-League player, thank you to the Brooklyn Nets for giving me this opportunity to play and be here.

Then it all really feels and seems full circle because I got to come home and do it in front of my family.”

Dinwiddie was born in Los Angeles and played his high school ball at Taft High School in Woodland Hills (in LA’s San Fernando Valley). He went against the likes of Jrue Holiday and DeMarre Carroll, and he learned some hard lessons there.

It’s all paying off now for Dinwiddie, who has proven he belongs in the NBA.

And that he’s got skills.

Back in the dunk contest, Victor Oladipo has come a long way

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LOS ANGELES – A few weeks into the season, Victor Oladipo acknowledged he hadn’t proven whether he was just off to a hot start or had actually made a significant leap in ability.

The results are in: Oladipo is a star.

Favored to win Most Improved Player, Oladipo is leading the Pacers toward a surprisingly likely playoff berth. He’s averaging 24.4 points and 2.1 steals per game, a combination unmatched the last couple years. He has developed the skills to maximize the athleticism and drive that made him the No. 2 pick five years go.

The biggest advancement has come beyond the arc. Not only is he shooting a career-high 38% on 3-pointers, he has become a threat off the dribble.

Oladipo is one of just 18 players making more than one pull-up 3-pointer per game:

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He has made 35% of those pull-up 3s, well above league average (32%). But even just threat of the shot is effective.

Defenses must go over screens more often when Oladipo runs the pick-and-roll, opening other holes for him and his teammates. Indiana has scored 5.9 more points per 100 possessions with Oladipo on the floor than off.

But, for all his skill development, Oladipo is still back in the dunk contest tonight. He also participated as a second-year player in 2015, when he played for the Magic.

“It’s a little different,” Oladipo said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a high-flyer like I used to be, I guess you could say. Because I can do it all now.”

Oladipo added that he was joking, but he can. He, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul are the only players who rate even one point per 100 possessions better than average both offensively and defensively by ESPN’s real plus-minus, and Oladipo – +2.96 offensively, +2.12 defensively – clears the bar easily.

Will he also leap over the field in the dunk contest?

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to just go out there and jump as high as I can and see what works, see what happens,” Oladipo said.

That used to somewhat describe his game. Not anymore.