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?

Raptors break out best game of postseason, rout Bucks 118-93 to take 3-2 series lead

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Norman Powell was draining threes, throwing down dunks that would have won the contest All-Star weekend, and he finished with a career playoff-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Plus defensively he caused Khris Middleton trouble.

The Raptors finished with 28 assists, the most in a playoff game since Dwane Casey took over as coach.

Toronto shot 57.7 percent overall, a franchise playoff best.

The Raptors bench played well pitching in 27 points and growing the lead when they were in, part of an overall strong night from the role players in Toronto.

Combine that all with the expected good nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and you get the Raptors best game of the playoffs. It looked like a different team than the one in Milwaukee.

Toronto raced out to an early lead and went on to rout the Bucks 118-93, giving the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.

This was a game where the Bucks tried to force the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan as much as they could, using their length and athleticism. However, Lowry had 10 assists, and DeRozan would get the ball off pindown screens and feel the double coming, move the ball, and another quick pass or two later the role-playing player Raptors were getting good looks and knocking them down. Or throwing it down like this.

Or this.

Toronto just looked more comfortable against the Bucks pressure, having seen it for so many games in a row, than they have all series.

Powell had 25 points for Toronto, Serge Ibaka had 19 and three blocks, Lowry had 16 points and 10 assists, DeRozan had 18 points and six assists, even DeMarre Carroll had 12 points on six shots.

The question for the young Bucks team is how does it bounce back from this kind of loss in the biggest NBA game most of them have ever played? Can they get their defensive edge back?

“We’re going to miss some shots, and we can’t let our offense dictate our defense,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “And also the turnovers, again. Right off the bat we had three…

“Our defense kind of got hit there in the first quarter, we knew that they were going to come after us, we had to expect that. And we just couldn’t respond.”

The Bucks had some runs in the second quarter and got the lead to nine at one point, but the Raptors always seemed to be in control.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had another strong game with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and rookie Malcolm Brogdon pitched in 19 points on 11 shots, but for the most part the Bucks struggled with their offense in this game. As their coach noted — and as often happens to young teams — they let their offensive woes impact the other end of the court.

At home, the Bucks will likely feel more comfortable, and they will fight for their playoff lives.

The question is, can the Raptors be this sharp again and close them out? Or will the yo-yo nature of this team continue?

 

Kevin Durant will play in Game 4 for Warriors vs. Trail Blazers

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In case you were curious how serious Golden State was about closing out Portland in four…

After missing the last two games with a strained calf, both Warriors wins to put them up 3-0 in the series, the Warriors are bringing back Kevin Durant for Game 4.

Steve Kerr is also out tonight for Golden State, Mike Brown will coach the team.

There was buzz that Durant could have gone in Game 3 if needed, but the Warriors felt confident they would win without him and they don’t want this injury to linger. There’s no more holding him back now.

Durant averaged 25.1 points a game, and thanks to the space created by the other stars on the team had his most efficient season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.1. He also pulled down 8.3 rebounds a game, dished 4.9 assists, and had his best defensive season in a long time as well. If not for an injury after the All-Star break that had him missing games, he would have made a lot of voters’ All-NBA team.

He adds to Golden State’s size advantage against Portland. The Warriors would like to close out the series tonight and get additional rest before facing the Clippers or Jazz in the next round.

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.

Stephon Marbury is parting ways with Beijing Ducks after three titles

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Stephon Marbury is big in China — he has his own statue and a play in his honor.

In six seasons he led the Beijing Ducks to three titles, but eventually rebuilding hits every team and it is coming to Beijing. Which means that while Marbury wants to stay in China beyond this season he is essentially a free agent. Here are the details, via shanghaiist.com (this has been confirmed by other sources).

The 40-year-old former NBA All-Star had a contract with Beijing for the next season that included an unusual clause allowing the team to decide if Marbury — known to fans as “Old Ma” — would return as a player or as an assistant coach. Marbury has said that after his playing days are over, he wants to coach in China; however, he still feels he could play for one more year.

But, after missing the playoffs this past season, Beijing is looking to rebuild and didn’t want their aging superstar clogging up a precious foreign player roster spot. The Ducks announced at a press conference on Saturday that after being unable to negotiate a deal, they were going to terminate Marbury’s contract.

Marbury put out a letter to fans on Weibo — a Chinese social media site — that Shanghaiist excerpted.

Second, we did not make the playoffs in the past season, as a player who always want to win and work hard to prepare myself for winning, it’s very hard to accept the way the season ended. Though I am 40 years already, I still work very hard to keep my body right, I can still play at a very high level, I am sure all the fans could tell from last season I’m still capable of playing. I was still able to lead the team to compete, even with an injured leg. I pulled my hamstring at the beginning of the season and I still played and put everything on the court because that’s who I am. I want to play, I love to compete, I [pursue] winning all the time, l love basketball because it’s my life, I still have a lot in the tank that [makes] me really want to play for another year. I want to dedicate this last year of my career in the best way possible on the court for the CBA, then I’ll retire and work as a coach to help the basketball here for the rest of my life.

Marbury had a 13-year NBA career (and was a two-time All-Star) but things got a little messy for him around the end of his career in the Association. Then he found a second life in China. A lot of Western players struggle to adjust to a very different culture and environment in China — not to mention a different style of basketball — so the league has a high drop out of Western players

However, Marbury has thrived. He’s found a second home.

I have to imagine a lot of teams would leap to get a draw like him on their team for a season.