Knicks forward Anthony reacts to the Bulls missing a free throw attempt in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York

Are you ready for another return? Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver Wednesday.

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This isn’t going to have the venom of Dwight Howard returning to Orlando Tuesday night. Certainly not the same as LeBron James first return to Cleveland. Time softens these things.

But Wednesday Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver for the first time since he forced his way out a couple seasons ago. And he’s probably still going to hear some boos — even though Denver didn’t take a step back without him and will have a good chance at their 10th win in a row on Wednesday.

Yes, it has taken this long for Anthony to return to the Rocky Mountains. The trade happened at the 2011 trade deadline, and the Knicks did not travel out to Denver the rest of that season. Last season was shortened by the lockout and with the shortened schedule the Knicks didn’t make a stop in Denver. They do this season, but it took a while to get around to it.

This is a very different Denver team than the one that Carmelo wanted away from — but it really hasn’t taken a step back since its star left in terms of wins and production. They made the playoffs the last two years, and while they lost in the first round both times Anthony only got the Nuggets out of the first round once. Ty Lawson is the one holdover from the Anthony era and put it this way to the New York Times.

“Are we better since the trade?” he said, relaxing at courtside, having finished a recent practice. “I’m not going to say that. I’ll just say we’re different. Our record is comparable, pretty much the same, still in that fifth-fourth area of the conference.”

At the urging of owner James Dolan to get the deal done, the Knicks gutted their roster of young talent to make this three-team trade a reality. The big name coming to Denver was Danilo Gallinari, the sharp shooting big man, but there was also now starting center Kosta Koufos, backup Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov. The Nuggets got Raymond Felton but traded him for point guard Andre Miller and two draft picks. The Nuggets also got trade exemptions that let them pick up JaVale McGee. Finally there was a first round pick in the deal that was shipped out as part of the Andre Iguodala trade with Philadelphia last summer.

Since the trade the Nuggets have won 63.5 percent of their games compared to 56.8 percent for the Knicks. Neither team has yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs, but the Nuggets have won four playoff games to the Knicks one.

The Knicks are improved. This season they are 38-23 and battling the Pacers for the two seed in the East. They see this as a season they could break through the first round barrier, reach the Eastern Conference finals and challenge a Heat team they beat a couple times earlier in he season. Anthony is having arguably his best season as a pro, averaging 27.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, with a PER of 22.9. He’s shown more willingness on the defensive end (at least to start the season) and has grown as a player.

Denver has reason to be optimistic going forward — their average age is 25.3, fourth lowest in the NBA (The Knicks are the oldest at 32.4). The Nuggets are 43-22, good enough right now for fifth in a Western Conference that has more depth at the top than the East. Denver has won nine in a row and are doing it with an up-tempo style and aggressively attacking the paint. The Nuggets score a league-best 57.7 points per game in the paint, the Knicks a league-low 33.5.

Anthony is not going to see the same venom as Howard did Tuesday because the Nuggets have moved on and built a team that is both entertaining and going to be a tough out come the playoffs. A team with a future. The Knicks got what they wanted — a New York born superstar who is the leader of a team with big playoff aspirations — but the Nuggets are pretty happy with the team they built. Nuggets coach George Karl talking to the Times:

“I know it’s nice to have Kevin Durant, it’s nice to have Tim Duncan, a LeBron James,” he said, referring to dominant players who can take over a game. “But just because a guy gets paid millions and millions doesn’t mean he’s a guy that is responsible enough to tell an owner, ‘Hey, you give me the money, you’re going to win and you’re going to win in the playoffs.’ How many guys are on that list?”

Notice who Karl didn’t mention?

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.