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.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.

 

Frustrated fan: John McEnroe says Knicks a ‘total train wreck’

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NEW YORK (AP) — John McEnroe had a ringside seat for the ugliest bout at Madison Square Garden last season.

He was sitting just feet away when former Knicks star Charles Oakley was surrounded by security officials at his seat, shoving them away before being handcuffed and arrested while watching a game in February.

Even before that, the tennis great had begun to lose patience with his favorite team.

“It’s like a total train wreck,” McEnroe said.

The low point during a miserable 2016-17 season came when Oakley was dragged out of MSG in the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. A fan favorite as a player, he had fallen out of favor with the organization in retirement after critical comments about the team and MSG chairman James Dolan.

McEnroe, who often travels for his tennis or other obligations, wasn’t aware of the history between Oakley and Dolan.

“I didn’t even realize at the time that Charles had said bad things about him,” McEnroe said. “I hadn’t been up on that, so it wasn’t awkward for me when he sort of poked me in my back, Charles, right before the incident happened. I was like, `Hey Charles, how are you? This is my son, Kevin.’ He was with me.

“So I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and I didn’t know what had happened or really what had transpired,” he said. “So maybe Jim was already uncomfortable because of past history or whatever and then when Charles and the security guys started to go at it, even before they started to come up to him I was like, `Uh oh, this is not going to go well, at all.”‘

McEnroe is clearly visible in replays of the skirmish that were shown that night and throughout the next day.

“To see Charles Oakley have handcuffs put on him was horrible. Like, I was sick to my stomach, as well as almost every other fan that was in there watching this as it took place,” McEnroe said. “I bet you Jim Dolan – this is just my opinion – had to feel terrible about what that was.”

McEnroe grew up in and still lives in New York, and considers MSG his home arena. The inside cover of his new book, “But Seriously,” is decorated with ticket stubs from games and concerts at the arena, including a Knicks playoff game. But like many Knicks fans, he’s getting fed up with what he sees.

“I mean I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was a kid, so this is just getting beyond belief,” he said.

McEnroe has owned a home in Malibu, California, for more than 30 years. He often trained in Los Angeles as one of the world’s top players during the early-to-mid 1980s, befriending Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis, whose husband Kurt played for the great Lakers teams of that era that were led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Watching this was like, I’m sitting there going, why the hell am I a Knick fan again?” McEnroe said, “because this is just absolutely unbelievable, watching Showtime.”

Dolan hired Phil Jackson, who won five titles as Lakers coach, as Knicks president in 2014. But the team has missed the playoffs every season under Jackson, who feuded with Carmelo Anthony last season and didn’t speak to reporters at all while the team went 31-51.

“I mean, he’s known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he’s not talking to anybody,” McEnroe said of Jackson. “So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails.”

Jackson is still hoping to trade Anthony, who has a no-trade clause. McEnroe said he was never the biggest fan of Anthony’s game, but that the All-Star forward didn’t deserve the treatment he received last season.

“It’s crazy to treat a guy that way,” McEnroe said. “It seems like, even if it would be better for both guys if they weren’t there – the Knicks and him – the whole thing just seems, I can’t believe how bungled this has gotten.”

Chris Paul re-elected president of the NBPA

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NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Paul has been re-elected president of the National Basketball Players Association.

Paul’s new four-year term begins immediately. He will be assisted by the union’s newly elected vice president, Garrett Temple of the Sacramento Kings.

In his first term as president, Paul most notably helped the players and the NBA come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that goes into effect on July 1.

Paul says he’s “humbled that my fellow players have voted to have me continue.”

Temple has a three-year term as vice president, which also begins immediately. He replaces Kyle Korver in that role.

The other members of the NBA’s Executive Committee are First Vice President LeBron James, Secretary-Treasurer James Jones, and Vice Presidents Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Pau Gasol and Anthony Tolliver.