Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

Three Stars of the Night: The Nuggets are still very odd


If you needed further confirmation that the Denver Nuggets are in fact very strange, tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder provided some material.

Andre Iguodala, the All-Star swingman, the Gold Medalist, the highest paid player on the Nuggets, didn’t play in the fourth quarter and barely played in overtime.

JaVale McGee…did JaVale McGee things. He tried playing point-center on one possession and headed up a fast break that eventually, predictably, ended up in a turnover. A few possessions later, he ducked out of the way of a pass headed right for him.

Andre Miller, who shoots a flinging set shot (and 19 percent from 3), acted as the team’s crunch time shooting guard.

Put it all together, throw in some big buckets by one of our stars, and what do you get? A win over one of the best teams in the league. I don’t understand the Nuggets, and I’m not going to try to. Let’s get to the Three Stars from Sunday’s action:

Third Star: Russell Westbrook – (36 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocked mascot shots)

Remember all the stories about how Michael Jordan used to look for perceived slights so he could have the motivation to go tear an opponent up? Russell Westbrook is like that, except he doesn’t have to manufacture the criticism. Seeing Westbrook sort of embrace the fact that he’ll never be the “true point guard” fans want has become one of my favorite things about this season. For all intents and purposes, he’s the NBA’s new super villain. He’s demonstrative, he robs fans of free queso, and you can tell he genuinely enjoys getting under everyone’s skin. Westbrook was in full-blown bad guy mode on Sunday against the Nuggets, driving to the rim with reckless abandon and throwing his body in defenders to get to the free throw line a whopping 17 times. Westbrook’s a momentum player, both in the sense that’s he unstoppable when he gets to full speed, and that once he gets a few shots to go down, he usually gets on a roll. The Nuggets survived a comeback spurred by Westbrook that included a huge deep 3-pointer, but if Westbrook is truly the villain he portrays, he won’t forget this game the next time these two teams meet up.

Second Star: Jose Calderon – (22 points and 9 assists in 30 minutes)

Was the Lakers defense deplorable? Of course. But a lot of credit also goes to Calderon, who really saw the floor brilliantly and probed in the pick-and-roll for the Raptors all night. Toronto shot a ridiculous 54 percent from the field against the Lakers, and Calderon’s 22 points magnified the big weaknesses of the Lakers’ defense. The Raptors were great in transition, but even when the game slowed down, Calderon moved the ball to the open man and always made the correct swing pass. If Calderon really is available come trade deadline time, some contender would be very lucky to have his decision making and shooting abilities added to their team.

First Star: Corey Brewer – (26 points, 6 rebounds, 15 points in the 4th quarter)

George Karl went with his gut, and Corey Brewer rewarded him in a serious way. When he wasn’t harassing Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook defensively, Brewer was spotting up in the corner and letting ’em rip from deep. For a team that has both struggled to shoot from the perimeter (29th in 3-point percentage) and put away games in clutch situations, every one of Brewer’s 15 points were like manna from heaven (the non-Darko Milicic variety) for Karl and the Nuggets down the stretch. Although Oklahoma City eventually caught them in regulation, Brewer’s hot shooting and aggressive nature kept Iguodala on the bench in overtime, which was probably a good thing on a night where he clearly didn’t have it. That’s the luxury Karl has with this deep roster, and although questions about their title chances remain, players like Brewer make the Nuggets a very tough out during the regular season.

Carmelo Anthony says he can play at high level 4-5 more years

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp

Carmelo Anthony can flat-out score the rock — that has never been the question. Even hurting last season for many of the 40 games he played, he averaged 24.2 points a game, had a true shooting percentage of 53.1 percent (right near the league average) while having the entire weight of the Knicks offense on his shoulders (32.2 usage rate, fifth highest in the NBA). When people (or players) talk about him being overrated, the discussion turns to defense or if he makes his teammates better. But there should be no doubt Anthony is an elite scorer.

He thinks he will be for a while longer — like another five years. Via Ian Begley of ESPN:

In fact, the 31-year-old Knicks star is confident that he can play at a high level for the next “four or five years.”

“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ final training camp practice on Saturday.

The Knicks better hope that’s true, they already made that bet with that massive five-year contract they gave him last summer.

Anthony’s age combined with him coming off knee surgery have a lot of people — myself included — expecting him to take a step back. Not a big one, but he is coming up at the point in his career where some open shots he used to get are now contested because he’s half-a-step slower, and some of those looks don’t fall as often. His jumper isn’t suddenly going to look like Rajon Rondo‘s, ‘Melo is going to get his points, but he may not be as efficient.

Fortunately, the Knicks have an improved supporting cast around him this season. That should take some offensive load off his shoulders, and maybe the Knicks offense will see better ball movement and start to resemble the triangle. If it’s just more isolation Anthony, it’s not going to be pretty.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.