Denver 93, Houston 87: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets get freaky

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Crunch time. Two possession game. James Harden has been completely locked up due to some stingy perimeter defense, but he still lurks as a viable closer. Rockets forward Patrick Patterson is hitting corner 3-pointers, which is apparently a thing that happens now. This has been a sloppy game, but it’s winning time for the Nuggets. Time to put your best lineup on the floor and seal this thing.

So who does Nuggets head coach George Karl trot out to close the game? Oh, just your standard four forward, Lawson-Brewer-Iguodala-Gallinari-Faried lineup that would make every coach not named Don Nelson blush.

That’s what makes the Nuggets fun to watch, even when they sometimes really aren’t. They can go through a brutal third period where nothing happens offensively, but you still can’t turn away, even as they turn over the ball 21 times on the game. There’s just something so alluring about the endless possibilities the Nuggets present — the chance that you’ll see something unique when watching them. It’s the chance that you’ll see something that can’t really be matched by any other team.

Or, ya know, it’s the chance to watch someone like Kenneth Faried.

Denver’s second year forward hogged all the eyeballs in this one, stealing Harden’s (ahem) thunder as he took over the game with some incredible displays of athleticism, leading the Nuggets to a 93-87 victory over the Rockets.

The beginning of the end came off a fine assist late in the fourth quarter from Andre Miller, whose sole purpose in life is to throw picture perfect lobs. This particular lob was about as good as it gets — from behind half court, Miller gauged the timing just right and put the ball on the mark for a streaking Faried. All of Faried’s tightly wound 6-foot-8 frame exploded into the air in a jaw-dropping display of athleticism that, again, makes the mind race with possibilities.

Faried’s next big play may have been even better. As James Harden did his trademark arms in front, sweep through the lane move, Faried tracked him step for step and timed his attempt at the rim perfectly, turning away a player who had come in averaging 35 points a game. Although Harden’s 5-for-15, 6 turnover performance can mostly be attributed to some killer perimeter defense from Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, it was Faried playing the role of rim protector and primary rebounder when the game got tight, something you wouldn’t necessarily expect with three viable 7-footers on the sideline.

What we’re seeing in Denver is something that’s been in the cards for a while now. The positional revolution is something we’ve all been whispering about, but lumbering 7-footers and “big” shooting guards still roam the plains. George Karl, however, just acts like a kid at the soda fountain, pouring a bit of each flavor into a cup and happily testing how it turns out.

And really, it takes a coaching staff willing to experiment (do you hear this, Kevin McHale?) and look past the labels for a play like Miller-to-Faried to even happen. Like “Moneyball” displayed so wonderfully, it needs to be a mindset that permeates throughout every level of the organization. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey probably loves the idea of Royce White’s versatility, but if Kevin McHale doesn’t play him, what does it matter?

There’s no such disconnect in Denver, and the result is Miller (playing shooting guard) throwing dimes to Faried (playing center) and inspiring the imagination. And if things go well in Denver this season? Maybe they’ll also ignite the revolution.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.