Kosta Koufos

Nuggets set futility record going 0-22 from three in loss to Trail Blazers

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One week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers set an NBA record by going 0-for-20 from three.

The Nuggets came into the Trail Blazers house on Thursday and did them two better.

Denver went 0-for-22 from three to set a new NBA futility record — and still had a chance to win this game, but fell 101-93. In fact, if you throw out the ugly first quarter for Denver they actually would have won this game.

They dug themselves a hole, one they needed a few threes to get out of and those never came.

The Nuggets spread the misses around — Andre Iguodala was 0-for-6, Ty Lawson 0-for-4, Corey Brewer and Jordan Hamilton each 0-for-3, in all seven different Nuggets missed threes.

But they had a chance in this game because they attacked — Denver scored 74 points in the paint. That also led to a lot of free throw attempts (24) and they made 17. Do the math people — Denver made just one mid-range shot in this game, all their points came in the paint or at the line. It’s a very efficient way to play — if you just knock down a few threes.

This game was decided early. The Nuggets scored just 14 first quarter points on 31.8 percent shooting. George Karl was either desperately looking for anything that worked or not over the flu as he used 12 guys in the first quarter. (In reality he was trying to send a message to his starters.) Portland wasn’t lighting it up, shooting just 36 percent but it did hit three threes (Wesley Mathews was 2-of-5 from deep, he finished with 20 points) and only had 1 turnover, so they had the lead by 11 after one quarter. That was a hole Denver could never get out of.

The pace picked up in the second quarter (there were 102 possessions in the game) and with that Denver was at an advantage. They ran, they attacked, they pushed it and it worked. Denver had 31 fast break points to Portland’s seven. At one point the Portland lead got all the way down to three midway through the fourth quarter.

Then Damian Lillard (12 points, 10 assists) and Nicolas Batum (22 points) hit back-to-back threes and Denver… well, they set a futility record.

Nice night for J.J. Hickson and his fantasy owners — 18 points and 18 rebounds. Brewer, Lawson and Iguodala each had 13 to lead Denver.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.