Nuggets, Andre Miller use second half surge to defeat Warriors

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Game one proved to be the perfect example of why this series has a chance to be the best of the first round match ups. Both teams dueled down the stretch with some fantastic shot making, but it was Andre Miller’s lay up in the final seconds that lifted the Nuggets to a 97-95 win over the Warriors to take a 1-0 series lead.

If there was any surprise to this game it wasn’t that there was a fantastic finish, but that it took so long for both teams to find their stride. The first half featured better defense than anticipated, but also both teams missing shots that they would normally make.

Stephen Curry seemed particularly off his game early on, hitting only 1 of his 10 first half shots while scoring 4 points. But he wasn’t alone. Off the bench, Carl Landry also had 4 first half points on 1-6 shooting and Jarrett Jack had 8 points on 3-7 shooting. Were it not for Klay Thompson’s 15 points on 7-11 shooting, the Warriors would have found themselves behind rather than up by 4 at the half.

But the Warriors did have the lead, mostly because the Nuggets were equally out of sorts. The Warriors did a very good job of mixing up their defense and keeping the Nuggets’ offense off balance. Golden State flashed several possessions of zone defense, inviting the Nuggets to shoot long jumpers rather than getting into the paint. The Warriors also did a good job of sending multiple players back in transition defense to avoid the run outs the Nuggets rely on for easy points.

In the 2nd half, however, the Nuggets finally started to find their stride by sorting out how to attack the Dubs’ defense. In the third quarter Ty Lawson got aggressive going to the basket, Corey Brewer got a few shots to fall, and even JaVale McGee got into the act with a couple of baskets. The Nuggets were became the team they’ve been all season, getting to the rim for baskets and using better energy to fuel their attack.

They also picked up their defensive intensity. Denver forced 5 turnovers in the third period, and while that didn’t translate to fast break points it did help them hold the Warriors to only 16 points in the period and turn the tide of the game.

It was the final frame, though, that provided the real fireworks. Golden State battled to make this a game when they just as easily could have folded in the face of a Denver team that typically dominates at home. Curry started to hit some shots, Carl Landry found some cracks in Denver’s interior defense for some baskets, and Andrew Bogut combined stellar defense with solid scoring. So even though David Lee went down with an injury early in the period, the Warriors were able to persevere and keep the game close enough that they could steal it at the end.

But those hopes were dashed by Andre Miller’s fantastic fourth quarter. Miller scored 18 of his game high 28 points in the final 12 minutes, getting into the paint. His old-man game was on full display as he posted up whichever defender happened to be on him and scored at will when the double team never came. His combination of step throughs, turnaround jumpers, and lay-ins at the rim  were simply fantastic. And when the game was on the line, there was Miller again, driving from the top of the key and hitting a nifty lay-in around Andrew Bogut’s challenge to win the game.

If it wasn’t clear coming into this series, this game showed that the Warriors have what it takes to play with the Nuggets regardless of where the game is played. The Nuggets needed a fantastic finish from Miller to claim this game and that was only enough after several Warriors struggled more than anyone could have expected.

That said, while the Warriors should be confident, they should also be kicking themselves for losing such a winnable game. Denver isn’t likely to give them so many chances in the rest of the games that are played in their home arena and with David Lee’s prospects up in the air and Kenneth Faried likely to make his return soon, the Warriors’ uphill climb may have gotten a lot steeper.

We’ll see what adjustments Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson has up his sleeve and whether or not his team can claim some of the momentum back after surrendering it in the 2nd half. But, after one game, they still have as many questions as they do answers while the Nuggets can simply regroup from a position of strength.

As for the fans, we all just hope we can get six more games just like this one.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Report: Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.