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.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry captains as All-Star starters named

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LeBron James, you are on the clock.

LeBron was the top overall vote-getter in the NBA All-Star balloting by the fans (2,638,294 votes) and that — along with votes from the media and current players to ensure he was in — has him as one of the two captains for the All-Star Game (Feb. 18 in Los Angeles). Stephen Curry was the top vote-getter in the West (2,379,494 votes) and he will be the other captain.

This year those two captains will pick the team — playground style — first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week). LeBron and Curry do not have to choose from their own conference, but here are the starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Kevin Durant
Anthony Davis
DeMarcus Cousins

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
DeMar DeRozan
LeBron James
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Joel Embiid

In the East, Victor Oladipo and Kristaps Porzingis both just missed the cut (the players had him as a starter over Embiid, but the fans and media did not), and in the West it was Russell Westbrook and Draymond Green who were just on the outside looking in (the fans voted Green a starter, while the media had LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting five. All of them are basically locks to be selected by the coaches for the All-Star team.

Here is the voting breakdown, where each player’s score is weighted based on 50 percent for fan vote, 25 percent for player vote, and 25 percent for media vote [if you care, the formula to get the weighted score is (Fan Rank * 2 + Player Rank + Media Rank)/4].

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#LeBron James (Cleveland)      1      2      1      1.25
2. *Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)      2      1      1      1.5
3. *Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)      3      4      3      3.25
4. Kristaps Porzingis (New York)      4      3      4      3.75
5. Kevin Love (Cleveland)      5      6      7      5.75
6. Al Horford (Boston)      7      8      5      6.75
7. Andre Drummond (Detroit)      9      5      6      7.25
8. Jayson Tatum (Boston)      6      12      8      8.0
9. Enes Kanter (New York)      8      9      8      8.25
10. Dwight Howard (Charlotte)      10      13      8      10.25

 

Eastern Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kyrie Irving (Boston)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *DeMar DeRozan (Toronto)      2      2      2      2.0
3. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)      3      6      6      4.5
5. John Wall (Washington)      6      4      4      5.0
6. Bradley Beal (Washington)      9      5      4      6.75
7. Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland)      7      9      6      7.25
8. Kyle Lowry (Toronto)      8      7      6      7.25
9. Dwyane Wade (Cleveland)      5      15      6      7.75
10. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee)      12      10      6      10.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Western Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kevin Durant (Golden State)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *Anthony Davis (New Orleans)      3      2      2      2.5
3. *DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans)      4      3      4      3.75
4. Draymond Green (Golden State)      2      7      6      4.25
5. Paul George (Oklahoma City)      5      6      7      5.75
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio)      8      4      3      5.75
7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)      9      5      4      6.75
8. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)      6      8      9      7.25
9. Carmelo Anthony (Oklahoma City)      7      9      9      8.0
10. Kyle Kuzma (L.A. Lakers)      10      12      9      10.25

    

Western Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#Stephen Curry (Golden State)      1      1      2      1.25
2. *James Harden (Houston)      3      2      1      2.25
3. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Manu Ginobili (San Antonio)      2      8      7      4.75
5. Klay Thompson (Golden State)      5      9      5      6.0
6. Chris Paul (Houston)      7      7      5      6.5
7. Damian Lillard (Portland)      8      4      7      6.75
8. Jimmy Butler (Minnesota)      9      6      4      7.0
9. Devin Booker (Phoenix)      10      4      7      7.75
10. Lonzo Ball (L.A. Lakers)      6      13      7      8.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.