Zach Randolph

Nuggets get 11th straight victory with comeback win over Grizzlies

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The Western Conference playoffs should be amazing this season, and two of the teams that will be as thickly involved as anyone clashed on Friday night in Denver.

The Nuggets came away with their 11th straight victory, after bouncing back from a 10-point third quarter and erasing a double-digit deficit to beat a very good Grizzlies team by a final of 87-80.

This game epitomized why I’ve been reluctant to ride the Memphis bandwagon this season, and it all stems from the Grizzlies’ offense.

Teams can’t expect to win in the playoffs scoring just 80 points, and even though Memphis has an advantage over most opponents with two All-Star caliber post players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, when Mike Conley playing the point has as many shot attempts as each of his two bigs, and commits seven turnovers while dishing out just three assists, there’s only so much Memphis can do defensively to win against the league’s elite teams.

Through three quarters, it appeared as though the defense would be enough. Memphis held the Nuggets to just 10 third quarter points, but the offensive ineptitude that’s a regularity with this Grizzlies team produced just 19 in the period, and they were only able to take a lead of eight points into the fourth.

In a low-scoring, low-possession game, that might be enough against most teams. But the Nuggets are explosive offensively, and they’ll eventually get out in transition to get some easy buckets, if they’re not creating open looks for one of nine guys who can legitimately score if they receive the ball under the right circumstances.

Denver outscored Memphis 29-14 in the final period, which included a run of 17-4 that turned an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead with 5:45 to play. Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, and Andre Iguodala all hit big shots down the stretch, while the Nuggets shot 62.5 percent from the field over the game’s final 12 minutes.

Denver’s overall winning streak reached 11, but their streak at home is now up to 15. The team’s 30-3 home record is tied with Miami for the league’s best.

Looking ahead to the playoff picture, we have three more-than-solid teams at a logjam in the West standings — the Grizzlies, the Clippers, and the Nuggets, all of whom are fighting for the three-seed. Memphis and L.A. are in third and fourth respectively, while Denver is just a half-game behind each.

While the Grizzlies traditionally win with grind-it-out, defensive efforts that would seem to be beneficial in the playoffs, the fact is that they don’t have reliable offensive options once the games get tight and a crucial basket is needed to seal a victory. Conley is average at best, and though Gasol and Randolph are both All-Star talents, they need sets run for them (or isolation plays, if nothing else) to be successful with the game on the line.

In this one, neither was featured down the stretch, and the Grizzlies suffered the consequences. They’ll need to figure out some things offensively before the playoffs begin if they’re going to get beyond the first round, but something tells me that if they haven’t done so to this point in the season, it’s not going to come together in time for a deep run into the playoffs.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.