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.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.

Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs look like contenders, Cavaliers look lost in rout

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Maybe you were busy Monday night having flaming food shoved in your mouth and didn’t have time to watch the night’s slate of NBA games. We’ve got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Spurs look like title contenders, Cavaliers look overwhelmed in rout. Cleveland falls to second in Eastern Conference. Is it time to worry yet, Cleveland? Because it’s feeling a lot like it’s time to worry. Not full on hit the panic button mode, more make sure you know where it’s located level of worry.

Last season the Cavaliers went 13-7 over their last 20 games, and that includes some meaningless losses with guys resting to close out the season — they had flipped the switch and found a groove that they carried into the postseason. Starting at the same point this season they are 5-6 in their last 11 (with nine games left). They are 8-10 since the All-Star break with the second-worst defense in the NBA in that stretch (allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions, barely better than the tanking Lakers). Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers say they can flip the switch, that getting guys rest is the priority. They hint that when they play good teams they are playing vanilla offenses so as not to give anything away. Lue and company want it to sound like this slump is nothing, it can be easily overcome, that it’s almost part of the plan.

Was the plan to fall behind Boston and become the second seed in the East?

Was part of the plan to get thrashed by the Spurs on national television?

Both those things happened Monday night. San Antonio looked like a contender getting in a playoff run groove. Cleveland looked like a guy standing in the middle of the street in Pamplona trying not to get run over by the stampede. San Antonio routed the Spurs 103-74 in a game that was never in doubt after the second quarter. The Spurs did whatever they wanted, check out this 10-0 run at one point in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers offense was a big problem in the first half – they had an offensive rating of just 85.1 at the half — but the larger issue became those bad shots led to the Spurs getting out and running, exposing the Cavaliers lackluster transition defense. Another problem was the Cavs’ bench, the Spurs won that first-half battle 28-0.

With the loss the Cavaliers fell half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East.

If the Cavaliers are playing like the Cavaliers can, extra road games are not a problem. Maybe there is a switch to flip, an adjustment here or there that changes everything. Cleveland’s defensive issues, and to a degree offensive ones as well, seem to be about effort. There is a sense of boredom as the team waits for the playoffs to start. Maybe that’s the case. But during the wins at the end of last season the Cavaliers were building good habits to fall back on when things did get tough in the postseason, these Cavaliers are doing no such thing.

It’s still tough not to pick Cleveland to come out of the East. But if things get tough against the Wizards in the second round, or against Boston or Toronto at some point in the postseason, those teams will be ready and think they know where they can find another gear. Will Cleveland?

2) Russell Westbrook makes an MVP statement: He racks up another triple-double, dominates end of game in Thunder’s comeback win. What made this game an impressive part of Russell Westbrook’sMVP resume was not his 37th triple-double of the season — 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but rather how he showed his value to the team at the end.

The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 on OKC with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game looked over. Then Westbrook happened — he scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, capping it off hitting the game winner. On that shot, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender — because nobody was going to stop him.

It was an MVP-level performance. Whether that is enough to get him the award is another question.

3) Is Sam Hinkie possibly making a return to the NBA? With the Sacramento Kings?
With the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, the Sacramento Kings will be counting on fan loyalty, an amazing new building, and hope for the future to sell tickets the next few seasons. That’s because the Kings are in full on rebuilding mode… can you call it rebuilding if you haven’t been to the playoffs for a decade? Whatever you call this round of bottoming out, the Kings are restructuring their roster, Sacramento is doing it.

Do they trust Vlade Divac to lead that rebuilding?

They probably shouldn’t, based on track record. Plus stability at the top of the organization is not something owner Vivek Ranadive apparently considers important — again, based on his track record — and it’s been coming up on two years since there was a front office shakeup. So it wasn’t a shock when a report surfaced Monday night that the Kings were talking to former Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie about coming on board.

The Kings quickly denied this.

Which led to the Tweet of the night from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A few things here. First, the number of times the Kings have said “we’re not doing” something then turn around and did it would require a spreadsheet to track, with the latest being trading DeMarcus Cousins. Second, the Kings are a leaky organization, so I don’t doubt the reports. Third, there has been a push from some minority owners to make changes at the top of the Kings basketball operations side, and Wojnarowski said the league has suggested the same thing because they want the Kings to be more professional.

Starting this summer, the Kings need someone in charge who understands rebuilding a team — that doesn’t have to be Hinkie, there are numerous other qualified candidates — but it needs to be someone. It shouldn’t be a big flashy name or personality, not someone a star-struck owner likes sitting next to and talking with, but someone who knows how to do the job. What the Kings need most of all, however, is to hire this person then have Ranadive get completely out of the way. Give the basketball person power, then get out of the way for four or five years. Let the rebuilding happen, and at that point assess what, if any, changes need to be made. Because the system going on in Sacramento now isn’t working on the court.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.