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Nuggets blow out Lakers to force a Game 7

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Denver more than held serve on its home court in Thursday night’s Game 6 against the Lakers; the team made a statement. Facing their second elimination game of the series, the Nuggets made sure this one was never in doubt, opening the game on a 13-0 run and leading by as many as 28 points while cruising to an easy 113-96 win to even the series at three games apiece.

Game 7 is Saturday in Los Angeles.

“There’s no way I thought what happened tonight would happen,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said afterward. But really, the way his team has competed in every game since the first one of the series, the way that Game 6 played out wasn’t all that surprising.

Ty Lawson set the tone for Denver from the very beginning, and finished with 32 points in 30 minutes, shooting 13-of-18 from the field, 5-of-6 from three-point distance, while adding five rebounds and six assists. Andre Miller was once again solid off the bench running the offense, and Corey Brewer was able to provide an offensive spark for Denver in this one, as well.

On the Lakers side, it was once again the story of too much Kobe Bryant and not enough from anyone else. Bryant was physically ill heading into the contest, and missed shootaround altogether due to a stomach virus. He required an IV treatment before the game and another at halftime just so he would have enough fluids in his system to be able to go.

“My room resembled a scene from ‘The Exorcist,'” Bryant said of his day spent with the illness. While he clearly did not appear to be himself, he played well, and finished with 31 points in 37 minutes on 13-of-23 shooting.

But for the second straight game, Pau Gasol was completely non-existent, and it wasn’t just his 1-of-10 shooting that saw him finish with only three points. Gasol was slow in his defensive rotations, and really seems to have either a lack of focus, interest, or both since Andrew Bynum has emerged as the team’s preferred number two option.

In this series, neither Gasol nor Bynum have been a legitimate offensive option at all. Denver’s defense continues to sag on the Lakers’ bigs inside, and L.A.’s perimeter players not named Kobe have failed to consistently respond. Bynum was at least somewhat active, grabbing 16 boards and blocking four shots to aid the Lakers’ effort. But his team needed more than the 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting he was able to muster.

After the Lakers’ horrific overall effort in Game 5, and with the absence of energy to start the game once again in Game 6, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to flip a magical switch when they’re faced with their own elimination game in Los Angeles on Saturday. One bright spot for L.A. will be the return of Metta World Peace to the starting lineup, after serving his seven-game suspension for the elbow he landed to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden a couple of weeks back.

But the Lakers problems go deeper than the defensive intensity and occasional three-point shooting that he might be able to bring. Gasol has to find a way to impact the game if the Lakers are to compete in Game 7 and beyond, and can no longer fail to contribute on either end of the court if his team is to have a chance.

Role players like Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Ramon Sessions are going to have to consistently knock down open shots to give their big men some room to operate in the paint, and L.A. is going to have to find a way to slow down Lawson, tighten up the rotations defensively, and bring the intensity from the start if the Lakers want to make it out of the first round.

None of this has happened consistently in this series, of course, and it hasn’t happened at all in the past two games. The talent is there for the Lakers to beat this Nuggets team one more time at home on Saturday, but it will take maximum effort from everyone on the roster to make it happen, along with some adjustments from Mike Brown in the way L.A. uses its weapons offensively.

Given all of that, despite having to go on the road for a Game 7, you have to believe that this Denver team likes its chances.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.