Warriors go on the offensive, dominate Nuggets to even the series

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The Warriors had a lot of questions surrounding them heading into this game.

How would they adjust to playing without David Lee? Who would start in his place? Would Stephen Curry find his offense? Would anyone else step up?

In order, they answered those accordingly: not much, Jarrett Jack, YES, and YES.

The Warriors put on a clinic in this game, running circles around the Nuggets by shooting an astonishing 64.6% from the field and claiming a 131-117 win to tie up the series at one game a piece.

The star of the night was easily Curry who, after starting out slowly (again), found his stroke from all over the floor to terrorize the Denver defense. Curry hit all variety of shots — step back jumpers from behind the arc, pull ups from mid-range, and even nifty finishes at the rim. He finished with a game high 30 points on 13-23 shooting, including 9 of his 13 shots from inside the arc.

But just as important as Curry’s scoring was his ability to set up his teammates. He also tallied 13 assists, getting the rest of his guys going to help trigger the onslaught that Denver simply didn’t have an answer for.

Three other Warriors besides Curry had at least 20 points in this game, led by Jarrett Jack’s 26 points (10-15 shooting) and rookie Harrison Barnes’ 24 points (9-14 shooting). Add that to Klay Thompson’s 21 points on 11 shots (including 5-6 from behind the arc) and the Warriors’ perimeter players overwhelmed the Nuggets all night.

Barnes’ performance was especially impressive in this game, not just because he’s rookie, but more so because of the versatility he showed in scoring the ball. He not only hit from the outside, but was also able to knock down mid-range shots while showing a fantastic ability to finish at the rim. He had several highlight level plays, including a two handed reverse dunk on Anthony Randolph that left the Denver crowd stunned and his teammates celebrating.

Those finishes at the rim were indicative of a second half that had Denver head coach George Karl scrambling for defensive answers that never came. With the Warriors doing so much damage from the wing, Karl elected to play a small lineup for most of the final 24 minutes, only playing Kosta Koufos a shade over three minutes and JaVale McGee a little over four minutes. Instead Karl turned to Anthony Randolph and Kenneth Faried as his big men, but both struggled to protect the rim. Faried, returning from injury, looked particularly sluggish and not yet back in game form, lacking his normal burst and athleticism around the basket on either end of the floor.

The Warriors took full advantage of that lack of size, running pick and rolls that allowed them to attack the paint and then finishing with ease once there. Golden State hit 12 of their 14 shots in the restricted area in that second half, which only led to the Nuggets over-helping once the ball got close to the rim, allowing the Warriors to kick the ball out to wide open shooters behind the arc. The formula was simplistic, but highly effective and all the Nuggets could do was watch as their home court advantage got washed away in the tide of made Warriors buckets.

Meanwhile, even though the Nuggets scored 117 points, they have to question if their approach is going to get it done over the course of this series. Denver only scored 8 fast break points in this game and couldn’t find many ways to generate the frenetic pace they love to play at. The Warriors cut off the Nuggets’ fast break attack wonderfully by consistently sending three players back on defense, trading offensive rebounding chances for better transition defense.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets were just the opposite, sending three (and sometimes four) players to the offensive glass on too many possessions and allowing the Warriors to run out for fast break chances in the process. The Warriors didn’t take advantage of these chances often, but they did get some timely baskets on run-outs; baskets that enabled them to maintain and/or extend the lead at crucial parts of the game.

Through two games in this series it’s not a stretch to say that the Warriors have clearly been the better team. They only lost game one by a single last second basket, but blew the doors off the Nuggets in game two. The Warriors look more poised and seem to have a better game plan through two games. And now head back to what will surely be a raucous Oracle Arena in Oakland to try and carry over momentum and seize control of the series.

On a night that started with so many questions for the Warriors, it’s now the Nuggets that have some searching to do. And if they can’t find some answers quickly, they may find themselves on the wrong end of first round upset.

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

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.”

 

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 first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

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.