Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw unhappy with lack of energy from rotation players following loss to Suns

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PHOENIX — The Suns improved to 4-2 on the young season with a 114-103 win over the Nuggets on Friday, in a contest that saw some extremely wild swings in both score and momentum before the night was through.

The first half was all Phoenix, as they followed up a 35-point first quarter by holding Denver to just 18 in the second, and led by 17 points at intermission. The third quarter began as the first half ended, with the Suns cruising and maintaining their large lead for another couple of minutes before Ty Lawson decided to strike.

Lawson singlehandedly outscored Phoenix 21-20 in the third, and the Nuggets turned an 18-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the span of less than eight minutes. Phoenix fought back to cut the Denver lead to just three heading into the fourth, before the Suns reclaimed momentum and pulled away for the team’s impressive fourth win of the season.

The Nuggets continue to struggle to find any type of cohesiveness, and are now just 1-4 on the season. JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov were brutal defensively, to the point where head coach Brian Shaw had no choice but to sit them for the bulk of the night after being woefully ineffective during their short stints on the floor.

“I’m at a loss for words from the lack of energy from some of our guys that are rotation guys,” Shaw said afterward, while discussing his disappointment in his team’s slow start.

“I tried to stick with our normal rotation, but with the speed of their bigs, they spaced out the floor and it just wasn’t a game I thought JaVale or Timo could ever make an impact in,” he said. “Just lapses defensively, not having good court balance and getting back. We take the layups away, and we’re giving up walk-up threes in transition. But what I’m most interested in is the low energy level of some of our guys. We’re deep enough at a few positions where if those guys aren’t going to come with any energy, then I’ll just go down the bench and find the guys that want to play, and their minutes and their opportunities will go down.”

Meanwhile, this Suns team has been a blast to watch in the early going, in part due to young talent like Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee, and a work ethic that makes you want to root for these guys to succeed. Markieff Morris reached a career high for a second straight game off the bench with 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, and while his production outweighs that of Channing Frye in the starting lineup, his presence on the second unit has been far more valuable to the team’s overall success.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.