The Extra Pass: Chemistry clicking in Denver as Nuggets beat Nets to win seventh straight, and Tuesday’s recaps

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NEW YORK — If it was a fight, they would have stopped it.

To say the Nuggets beat the Nets on Tuesday to earn their seventh straight win wouldn’t at all be an accurate description of how Denver came out and destroyed Brooklyn in the third quarter, and then continued the assault against a depleted and dejected opponent while turning the game into a 111-87 laugher well before the final buzzer sounded.

The Nets, playing without Paul Pierce (and Deron Williams, and Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko) were able to hang around for a little while with some above average effort through the first two quarters that kept the deficit within single digits. But Denver’s athleticism and overall cohesiveness on both ends of the floor showed just how far away this Nets team is from anything resembling a club that can compete with the more together units that have been able to form over the early part of this season.

In the Nuggets locker room afterward, the mood was understandably light. But there was a camaraderie present that is impossible to force or manufacture, and that’s what the players believe has led to the team’s recent string of success.

“Guys are making shots, we’re playing hard, we’re sharing the ball,” said Nate Robinson, when asked to explain the factors present in his team’s current winning streak. “We’re in a good place. This locker room has been great. Every guy’s contributing. Even guys that don’t play, they come in and give us a great look, they practice hard, and it’s just been that type of feeling in the locker room, man. And it’s going to stay like that. We’re going to help each other.”

Kenneth Faried playfully “helped” Timofey Mozgov conduct his postgame interview, after Mozgov ended up with 20 rebounds to go along with 17 points on just nine shots. Mozgov said it might have been his best game as a pro, while Faried put ice down his shirt which ended the interview and had Mozgov briefly and legitimately upset.

Mozgov got revenge on Faried in the shower area with an icing of his own, and Robinson congratulated him on his way back to the locker room for doing just that. By the time Faried came out, he slapped hands with Mozgov and extended similar pleasantries while expressing appreciation for a job well done.

The chemistry is real on this team right now, and it was proudly on display. Ty Lawson similarly explained to me that the team’s coming together is as much of a factor as anything in its recent string of victories.

“It’s all about the guards,” Lawson said in jest, before getting more specific.

“Nah, just jelling,” he said. “It’s getting to learn coach’s system. We started off a little slow, but now everything’s clicking. Right combination (of guys), learning the plays, what situations — we’ve got seven new players, too. We’ve had to find out who best fits together, and I think we know that right now. We know we’re going to get each other shots, where we like it and things like that. And it’s working out for us.”

While things are working perfectly for the Nuggets right now, the season continues to be a disaster for the Nets.

Kevin Garnett takes the postgame podium in Brooklyn even before head coach Jason Kidd does, and he continues to be perplexed as the losses pile up. Garnett seems to legitimately be wondering how this can all be happening to a team with so much preseason promise, and looks to be trying to decipher it on the fly as the questions keep coming.

The Nets play next on Thursday, when they’ll host the rival yet equally dismal Knicks in a nationally televised contest. When Garnett was asked if there was any additional pressure for his team to perform in that one given all that’s at stake, he turned his thoughts to his own team instead of worrying about what losing to New York might mean in the grand scheme of things.

“I think at this point we’re trying to figure out who we are and fix this,” Garnett said. “We’re at home getting beat by 30, 40 points. It’s not what we want, it’s not what anybody even close to predicted where we were going to be. We’re just tying to understand. Like I said, there’s a lot of things going on here, but no excuses. This is a non-excuse league. We don’t care about that, we care about performance and coming out and having a better showing at home. We need to come out and have a better showing, period. And we will. We have no choice.”

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Sixers 126, Magic 125 (2OT): Rookies Michael Carter-Williams of the Sixers and Victor Oladipo of the Magic each finished with triple-doubles, marking the first time in NBA history that two rookies achieved the statistical feat in the same game. Arron Afflalo (43) and Glen Davis (33) each posted career-highs in points for Orlando in the loss. Andrew Nicholson (8) and Ronnie Price (1) combined for the Magic’s only bench points — just eight of the team’s 125 total.

Celtics 108, Bucks 100: When the Celtics are making shots like this, you can expect it to be their night. Boston was led by Jordan Crawford with 25 points and improved to 8-12 on the season with the victory — which, in the Eastern Conference means a four-seed in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Nuggets 111, Nets 87: Denver extended its winning streak to seven games with the victory, and used a 31-15 third quarter to build a lead of as many as 28 points before all was said and done. Fans that stayed until the final buzzer sounded did so seemingly only to boo the home team, which competed for a half or so before succumbing to the athleticism, talent and energy advantage that Denver brought to this one.

Pistons 107, Heat 97: Dwyane Wade sat this one out, LeBron James was merely human, and Detroit’s bigs were too much inside so the Pistons snapped the Heat’s 10-game winning streak. Detroit used a balanced attack that saw seven of its players finish in double figures, and beyond 23 points from James and limited effectiveness from Chris Bosh against Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Miami didn’t have enough offense on a night where its defense (which allowed the Pistons to shoot better than 51 percent) wasn’t its usual self.

Grizzlies 110, Suns 91: Phoenix had control of this one with an eight-point halftime lead, before completely falling apart over the final two periods. The Suns were outscored 64-37 after the break, and allowed Memphis to shoot 66.7 percent from the field over the game’s final 24 minutes.

Mavericks 89, Bobcats 82: You would have thought the Commodores were playing at halftime early in this game because both teams were trying to build a “Brick House” (it’s mighty mighty). Charlotte had a third quarter lead thanks to 19 points from Al Jefferson and some solid defense. But you can’t keep a blanket over Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks all night — Nowitzki had 9 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, Monta Ellis had 10 of his 22 in the final frame and Dallas went on a 20-7 run to take the lead and never look back.

Thunder 97, Kings 95: This is exactly why our man D.J. Foster suggested Isaiah Thomas is the early frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year — he came in guns blazing for the fourth quarter, scored 21 points and almost single-handedly led the Kings to a comeback win. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Jeremy Lamb had 7 of his 15 in the fourth quarter to help the Thunder hold on for the road win.

Warriors 113, Raptors 102: Toronto had a 27-point third quarter lead and still led by 18 entering the fourth, thanks to 20 points from DeMar DeRozan and an efficient 7-of-8 shooting from Amir Johnson. But as Golden State started to get hot (8-of-11 from three in the fourth) the Raptors started to make silly moves — they tried trapping on the perimeter, and one pass later Golden State was draining an open three. Stephen Curry had 14 of his 27 in the fourth, Klay Thompson 12 of his 22. It was a dramatic come-from-behind win that was fun for the people in Oracle. At least most Raptors fans were asleep by the time their team collapsed in this one.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 26, Bucks beat Raptors 122-119 in OT

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TORONTO (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks felt extra good about getting a rare win against the Toronto Raptors.

Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped Toronto’s seven-game win streak with a 122-119 overtime victory Friday night.

“We haven’t beaten them in a while so the win feels a lot better, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re a great team, too.”

Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton each scored 21 points as the Bucks won the opener of an eight-game stretch against teams in playoff contention. Jason Terry scored 14 points, and John Henson and Thon Maker each had 12.

“It’s a big gut-check and a big win for us,” Middleton said. “This is the best team in the East and we proved that we could beat them on the road.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points for the Raptors, who had won five straight home games against the Bucks, and 15 of the past 17 meetings.

Toronto also eliminated Milwaukee in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. The teams will not meet again in the regular season.

Serge Ibaka had 18 points, and Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam each scored 17 for Toronto.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They outworked us, the outplayed us, they outthought us. Whatever adjective you want to use, they did it to us tonight.”

Jonas Valanciunas‘ buzzer-beating dunk for Toronto sent the game to overtime. He finished with 10 points.

Toronto suffered its first home loss since Jan. 26 against Utah. The Raptors are an NBA-best 24-5 at home.

“It’s good to have a tough loss like this,” Lowry said. “It kind of re-focuses us. We can get beat on any given night and we’ve got to come out there and play hard every night.”

The Raptors trailed 110-108 with 3.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Middleton split a pair of free throws. Following a timeout, Toronto inbounded the ball to Valanciunas, who paused before driving for the tying dunk.

Toronto scored the first five points of the extra session, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Terry and Middleton capped an 8-0 Bucks run, giving Milwaukee a 118-115 lead with 1:58 left.

Valanciunas stopped the run with a dunk, but Antetokounmpo’s jumper with 13 seconds left put the Bucks up 120-117.

DeRozan cut it to one with a dunk but Terry answered with a pair of free throws in the final second. DeRozan’s long inbounds pass to C.J. Miles was knocked away at the buzzer to give the Bucks the win.

 

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.