Remember just a week or so ago when the Denver Nuggets had lost seven in a row and looked like a team destined to fall far out of the playoff picture in the West?
Now the Nuggets have turned it around with four straight wins, and while they are not in a playoff spot yet they are back in the picture.
The latest of those wins came over a sleepy, uninspired Thunder team on Thursday night, 101-88. It wasn’t that Denver was particularly brilliant, their offensive rating on the night was a tic below their season average — although Randy Foye was hot on his way to 24 points and Denver knocked down 14-of-31 three point attempts.
It’s just that Denver was solid and that was much better than whatever the Thunder were doing out there. (Insert your own “marijuana is legal in Colorado” joke here… or just find the copies of Kevin Durant’s deleted tweets from after the game Thursday night.)
Durant had 30 points on 18 shots, but without Russell Westbrook that is not going to get it done. That’s not meant as a dig at Durant, it’s just a night when the Thunder bench shot 28.6 percent, led by Jeremy Lamb going 1-of-12, Durant is going to have to have a monster scoring night to keep the Thunder in it. And he didn’t. Durant was good but just 1-of-7 from three.
By comparison the Nuggets looked as composed, like the team that has tripped up so many visitors to altitude over the years. Denver had a 9 point lead at the half then opened the third quarter on a 10-2 run, and that was pretty much your ballgame.
Ty Lawson was in great form, using his quickness to get 16 points for himself and create open looks for others. Randy Foye was 6-of-9 from three, which really opened up the entire Nuggets offense, and je finished the night with a team-high 24 points. Evan Fournier had 19 points and the kind of game that demands more minutes soon.
This isn’t a game you read anything into — the Thunder miss Westbrook terribly but we knew that already, and Denver is a team that gets hot and is pretty much right now. They just need to stay hot if they want to make the playoffs. The Nuggets will take the win just the same.
Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)
Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.
Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.
Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest
In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.
And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.
The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.
There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)
“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”
The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.
“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”
So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.
Gordon was close to perfect.
Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.
Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk
TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night: