Facing Elimination, Nuggets need to pull out all the stops against Warriors

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Few people expected we’d be at this point this soon, if they even thought we’d be here at all.

The Nuggets are facing elimination in the fifth game of their series versus the Warriors — a series many had them winning at the outset, with even more jumping on the bandwagon after David Lee was injured in game one.

But since that loss in the first game, momentum is clearly on the Warriors’ side with head coach Mark Jackson making all the right moves while George Karl struggles to find answers to counter them. And really, adjustments are what this series is all about now. Can  George Karl find the right lineups and implement the proper tweaks to his team’s approach to get a win?

With everything on the line, Karl has no choice but to try every trick in his bag to try and get this series back to Oakland. Maybe that means Andre Iguodala guarding Stephen Curry for every minute that Curry plays. Maybe it means playing Andre Miller less with Ty Lawson and going with Corey Brewer at shooting guard more often. Maybe it means playing JaVale McGee more than his usual amount of minutes to give the Nuggets a shot blocking presence and athleticism they lack when he’s on the bench.

Whatever he tries, however, it needs to be different than what he’s been doing because it’s clear those tactics aren’t working.

On the Warriors’ side, the approach is simple: just keep giving the ball to Curry and letting him create until the Nuggets figure out a way to stop it. Curry has proven to be the series’ best player by a wide margin and his combination of shooting, ball handling, and play making has turned the Warrior offense into an unstoppable force.

Defensively, they need to continue to rely on Andrew Bogut to anchor the back line while using their wings to pressure ball handlers into that murky mid-range area where they’ve proven to be less effective. This combination of wing pressure and Bogut protecting the basket has given the Nuggets fits in the half-court while their choice to get back in transition rather than chase offensive rebounds has forced Denver into a more controlled style.

The Nuggets can’t win that way and they know it. They want to try and do it’s create a chaos all over the floor in order to overwhelm their opponent.

Maybe with the increased stakes and playing on their home floor they’ll be able to manufacture the energy needed to turn up the tempo. If they can pressure the Warriors’ ball handlers and create some turnovers, it would go a long way towards getting this win. It would also help if they could get out to a fast start to build some momentum, get the crowd behind them, and then ride that wave of emotion.

Needless to say, the Nuggets need something to go their way after the way the last three games have unfolded. If they can’t turn it around tonight, they’ll have a long time to think on how they let it all slip away after one of their most successful regular seasons ever.

Joel Embiid frustrated, wants more post touches, to play back-to-backs

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Joel Embiid remains a frustrated man.

He wants to be unleashed on the NBA, and he feels he’s being held back.

Part of that is not playing in back-to-backs — Embiid started Friday night against Boston but will sit out by plan Saturday night against the Raptors in Toronto. Embiid knows the plan to help protect a body that has played only 31 games in three seasons before this one and was not cleared for most of training camp, but that doesn’t mean he likes it, as he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.  “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I can’t play back-to-back.”

I get his frustration, but can you blame the Sixers for treating the guy like he’s made of glass at this point? Hopefully, later in the season, he can be cleared to play on both ends.

His second frustration came from the loss to the Cavaliers on Friday — he wants more post touches. In the video above he is clear, “I didn’t get the ball enough in the post.”

He’s right here. Embiid had three post-ups all game, one in each of the game’s first three quarters (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is efficient in the post — he has shot 9-of-12 on those plays overall this season and the Sixers score 1.33 points per possession when he does. Especially against a team going small — the Cavaliers start Kevin Love at center — Embiid should be fed down low.

Instead, look at his shot chart from Friday night.

Part of this is on him with all the threes, but they have to utilize him better. It’s part of the Sixers growing pains that will come this season.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.