Lack of energy, lack of Lawson ends Denver’s streak in New Orleans

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It didn’t take long into Monday night’s contest to know this was not the Nuggets night. Maybe it was the early 7-0 Hornets run, or the 15-3 run in the middle of the first quarter, or the Nuggets 33 percent shooting in the first quarter, or… you get the idea.

Denver was having one of those nights. Often when that happens Ty Lawson lifts them out of the doldrums, but he was sitting out his third straight game with a heel injury.

Combine that with the Hornets being on their game — taking care of the ball and slowing the game down — and the result was an easy 110-86 Hornets win. The Nuggets streak ends at 15.

As Gregg Popovich has noted, when teams on a streak lose they tend to drop a few in a row — Denver can’t afford to do that. They, the Grizzlies and Clippers are locked in a fight for the three seed — two of those good teams face off in the first round and the three seed gets a softer Warriors (or maybe Rockets) team. You want the three seed. Denver needs to shake this off and keep winning.

Denver just had one of those nights — they got looks in the paint but shot just 42 percent on those looks. Denver shot 38 percent overall. Shots just would not go down. And credit the Hornets for controlling the glass and not letting Denver have second chance shots.

Meanwhile the Hornets hit their shots — Ryan Anderson’s 23 led six Hornets in double figures. Backup point guard Brian Roberts was dishing, finishing with 18 assists. Denver’s defense was awful, and if you’re going to signal anyone out for that (it was really a team lack-of-effort) start with Andre Miller. Bad night for the vet.

But really, this was a game where Denver just didn’t have the energy to play at tempo, to run their opponent out of the building.

Denver just has to get back up and not let the streak be an aberration in a season that ends early in the playoffs.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.