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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.

DeMarcus Cousins has spent All-Star Weekend playing defense on trade, George Karl rumors

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star 2016 on February 13, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star and he just wants to enjoy it. Hang out with other elite players, take part in the Skills Competition, have dinner at Sotto Sotto, play in the ASG itself, chill with friends. Chill being the operative word considering the weather.

But for parts of the weekend, he has had to play defense, swatting away attempts to get him to slam coach George Karl or talk trade rumors that have him leaving Sacramento. Mention his friend Isaiah Thomas making it to All-Star Game and you get the gregarious Cousins, but when the other topics come up you can feel his frustration, and hear it in his clipped answers.

“First of all, I can’t control the trade (rumors) and I can’t control if I’m traded or not…” Cousins said. “But I do want to be in Sacramento, and I know everybody in Sacramento knows that.”

Cousins isn’t getting traded. Teams may call the Kings, but they get shot down quickly (then those teams leak the rumor they called, making them look good to their fan base for trying). For one, the Kings have a franchise cornerstone piece under a reasonable contract, that’s not someone you trade unless forced to. Second, owner Vivek Ranadive loves him. Third, and this is key, the Kings open a new arena in downtown Sacramento next season — you don’t trade your best and most popular player, the face of your marketing program in the city, while you’re trying to sell luxury boxes and sponsorships in a new arena.

Cousins has also batted down questions attempting to get him to slam George Karl.

“I can go long term with any coach, but that’s not my decision….” Cousins said. “He’s a free, open-minded coach, he lets his players play. I think every player appreciates that.”

He was more direct with deserving new basketball Hall of Fame journalist David Aldridge of NBA.com in a video (and he’s laughing more and in more of a joking mood in the video than how this quote reads):

“I’m tired of it. Stop trying to make a story out of it, we’re fine. Our only goal this season is to make the playoffs. That’s it. All the other stuff, just stop, it’s not necessary.”

Undoubtedly there is some tension in and around the organization with Karl, although he will be around through the end of the season. However, the one thing that was clear with this team going back to Summer League — when the core guys bonded on a plane trip together to Las Vegas (and doing the other things one might do in Vegas) — the locker room is pretty solid.

“Throughout all this, the one thing that’s been good about the whole situation is the guys in the locker room stay together,” Cousins said. “There hasn’t been any separation.”

It seems Karl has never found a way to reach and inspire that group.

Ask Cousins about the rest of the season and you get some variation of “just stay positive.” He admits that’s not been easy after some tough losses of late, but it’s what they need to do to make a run.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the season, but just find a way to remain positive and get over the hump,” he said. 

That may be easier said than done.

But, at least, Cousins will get the chance to enjoy All-Star weekend.

Can we just relive that epic Dunk Contest one more time? Here’s the mixtape.

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TORONTO — Talking to NBA people, fans, and media around Toronto Sunday it seems every conversation starts with some version of “last night’s Dunk Contest was INSANE!

Because it was.

Andre Drummond threw down an impressive two-hand power slam with an assist from soccer playing Steve Nash. Will Barton‘s first dunk might have won him the contest in some weaker years. And we’re not even talking about them because of the eye-popping show that Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put on.

Before we move on and talk trade rumors or actual All-Star Game, or whatever is coming next, can we just bask in the joy of that dunk contest one more time? The fine folks at NBA.com put together this mixtape version of the Dunk Contest, I’m passing it along.

Savor this people, it doesn’t get any better than what we witnessed Saturday night.

Michael Jordan to Klay Thompson: “Go ahead and break” Bulls’ 72-win record

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, watches on during their game against the Washington Wizards at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NBA - NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Barring a major injury, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the Warriors will surpass the 1996 Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season and vault themselves into the conversation of the greatest NBA teams in history. All year, members of that ’96 Bulls team have weighed in comparing the teams, but one guy who hasn’t given his thoughts publicly is Michael Jordan.

Apparently, during All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Jordan gave Klay Thompson his blessing for the Warriors to go for 73. Via CSN’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude:

Not that the Warriors need anybody’s permission to go after the record, obviously. But it had to be cool for Thompson to hear directly from Jordan that he respects what the Warriors are doing and wants them to break his own record. In all likelihood, they’ll do it.

Report: No suitors for Boston’s David Lee. So far.

Boston Celtics' David Lee comes down after dunking during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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The Celtics are rumored to be involved in a lot of trade talks that in reality are going nowhere — Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Al Horford. The buzz around the league is none of those deals are coming together, in part because Boston is protective of its picks (particularly things like the 2016 unprotected first round pick of the Brooklyn Nets).

What the Celtics would love to talk about is finding a new home for David Lee. But that is proving difficult, reports Mark Murphy of the Boston Globe.

Lee, who has fallen out of Brad Stevens’ rotation, and would welcome a move to a playoff team that has a role for him, is not drawing suitors.

“David Lee was tough for Golden State to move all of last year,” said the source. “And it finally came down to him being moved for Gerald Wallace. David Lee has no value. It’s his contract. David Lee’s value comes in if they get one of these big name players.” … Isaiah Thomas has been doing his part when it comes to selling players on the virtues of being a Celtic.

Lee is making $15.5 million this season. He’s always mentioned in those superstar trade rumors with Boston because they can use his salary to help match a more expensive players’ contract. But on his own, that’s been a much tougher sell.

Hopefully, the Celtics can find a taker; Lee deserves to be in a place where he has a chance to at least contribute a little. He’s not a starting caliber player anymore, but we saw in the NBA Finals last season in the right circumstance he can play a key role.