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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.

NBA policy change kept Draymond Green off All-NBA first team, Paul Millsap off third team

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 01:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks tries to steal the ball from Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 1, 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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Draymond Green received 431 points in All-NBA voting.

DeAndre Jordan received 317.

Yet, Jordan made the first team while Green made the second team.

Why?

The NBA explained in its official release:

Players who received votes at multiple positions were slotted at the position where they received the most votes.

Green got 85 votes at forward and 39 at center, so he was eligible only at forward. Jordan got all 89 of his votes at center.

That’s perfectly reasonable, but it wasn’t always this way.

The NBA changed its rules last offseason after 2015 voting concluded, according to league spokesman Tim Frank. Instead of sliding players to a position they rarely played if they got any votes there, players are now eligible at only the position where they received the most votes (though voters can still mostly slot players where they deem appropriate on individual ballots). An increase in multi-position players sparked the new policy.

And, fundamentally, it’s good switch. The league should have a clear policy and stick with it rather than trying to interpret the line on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, there’s room for quibbling. Is 50% the right threshold rather than, say, 30% Would basing it on points rather than votes work better? Will all forward/centers get tilted toward forward because there are twice as many All-NBA slots at forward than at center? There’s no perfect solution.

But, more than anything, a clear and fair policy – and this is both – is better than no set policy.

This is also a noteworthy policy, because it had a clear effect this year.

If Green were the first-team center, Paul George would’ve made the second team at forward and Paul Millsap would’ve been a third-team forward. (Thankfully, Millsap finished ahead of Anthony Davis – who played both power forward and center, got more votes at forward and could’ve made about $25 million more over the next five years due to the Derrick Rose rule – or else this would’ve been a much bigger can of worms). Jordan would’ve been the second-team center, DeMarcus Cousins third-team and Andre Drummond bumped.

On the flip side, adopting the current rule sooner would’ve changed some results from the last couple years.

Cousins was an All-NBA second-team forward last year despite getting more votes at center, and Pau Gasol was the All-NBA second-team center despite getting more votes at forward – which obviously means the net effect is nil.

A more significant position bend came with the 2014 All-Defensive team. Andre Iguodala was a first-team guard despite getting more votes at forward. Holding him at forward would’ve sent him to the second team and bumped Kawhi Leonard. Patrick Beverley would’ve gone to the first team and Tony Allen to the second team at guard.

Report: Rockets hiring Mike D’Antoni

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a score against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 29, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. The spurs would win the game 92-87 and the series 4-1.   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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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James Harden reportedly had a role in picking the Rockets’ head coach.

So, of course they hired someone who’s not particularly interested in defense.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

D’Antoni can be an excellent coach if he has a roster that fits his up-tempo spread style, and a defensive coordinator would also help (Sorry, James). If Houston is committed to surrounding D’Antoni with the requisite resources, this could be a strong hire. On the bright side, this roster is ripe for turnover – notably Dwight Howard, who clashed with D’Antoni on the Lakers.

Most of all, the Rockets just needed a fresh start after last season’s stinker. They were bound to get that no matter whom they hired.

It’ll be on D’Antoni to prove he can provide more of a bump than any viable coach would’ve.

At minimum, though, Houston should be more exciting.

All-NBA teams announced, and Anthony Davis loses $24 million

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 14:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks the ball over Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 14, 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 NBA has released the list of players selected to the three All-NBA teams, and most of them are the people you’d expect to make it. But two players are affected by the voting in very different ways: Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.

Here are the selections:

FIRST TEAM ALL-NBA

SECOND TEAM ALL-NBA

THIRD TEAM ALL-NBA

These selections are fine. There are areas where it’s possible to quibble (is DeMarcus Cousins worthy despite not being on a playoff team? Should Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard switch spots?) But the voters largely got it right and honored the right group of players.

The much more interesting dynamic is how the voting affects the contracts of Lillard and Davis, who were both Rose rule candidates. The so-called “Derrick Rose” rule, put in place in the 2011 CBA, allows players signed to a five-year “designated player” extension to earn a larger percentage of the cap and higher annual raises if they either a) win MVP, b) get voted as a starter to two All-Star teams, or c) make two All-NBA teams during their rookie contract.

Davis and Lillard both signed five-year max extensions last summer. Davis made first team All-NBA last season, so he would have been eligible for the Rose rule if he had made a team this year. But he fell short in an injury-plagued season in which the Pelicans missed the playoffs. His extension will now be worth around $120 million over the five years, instead of $145 million.

Lillard, meanwhile, made third team All-NBA last season, so his second-team selection this year secures an extra $24 million over the course of his extension. This won’t matter much for the Blazers, who are so far under the salary cap that they can sign pretty much anybody they want, but Lillard has to be happy with the recognition after he was infamously left off the Western Conference All-Star team this season.

Magic will look to make a splash in free agency this summer

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 31, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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This is going to be a big summer for the Orlando Magic. They’ve been rebuilding for the past four years, since the Dwight Howard trade in 2012, and have amassed a promising collection of young talent including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon. They just hired a coach, Frank Vogel, with a proven track record of success in the playoffs. Now, they want to take the next step in the rebuilding process and get back into the playoffs. With as much as $46 million in cap room, CEO Alex Martins told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that he wants to make a splash in free agency and add some veterans to surround their prospects.

Why the sudden openness for the notoriously tight-lipped Magic?

“Because that’s what we need at this point in time to take the next step,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Secondly, this has been a plan, this has been a process. The first part of the plan and the process is to develop your own [players] and grow your own [players]. And when you inject veterans at the wrong period of time, it has an impact in the way that you’re trying to develop your corps of young players. It can’t just happen immediately. It’s got to happen at a certain point in time — after your players have matured and developed.

“And we always believed that this summer and next summer were going to be the two summers of free agency for us that we needed to focus on after developing our young guys.”

The Magic aren’t traditionally a destination franchise for big-name free agents, the exception being the summer of 2000 when they landed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. But they made a big offer last summer to Paul Millsap (who decided to stay in Atlanta), and are expected to make a run this summer at Millsap’s teammate, Al Horford. Horford played college basketball at the University of Florida, so he has ties to the area, as does Chandler Parsons. Whether or not they land any of these names, their combination of location (Florida has no state income tax), young talent and a well-respected coach should get them into the conversation this summer.