Monday NBA grades: Faried, Hickson help Nuggets snap Clippers’ win streak

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to explain how a python ate your family pet

source:  J.J. Hickson/Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets. Let’s be clear — Denver snapped the Los Angeles Clippers 11-game win streak because the Clippers were tired and off. The back-to-back with the second game in Denver trap has caught many teams over the years, and the Clippers looked listless, shot 39 percent and Chris Paul had an uncharacteristic six turnovers. But it was Faried as the starter and Hickson off the bench that had the biggest impact — they both brought real energy and defended Blake Griffin well (yes, BG still had 26 points but he needed 25 shots to get there). They also made Griffin work on defense with Faried scoring 18 and Hickson 21 (Glen Davis had to work as well). The Clippers were clearly tired but that only matters of a team could exploit it. Faried and Hickson exploited it.

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. We’re giving him the shoutout with his 35 points on 21 shots, plus 12 rebounds and 5 assists — that’s 32 games in a row Durant has scored at least 25 points — but it was more than him that got OKC a win over Chicago. Russell Westbrook returned to action and nearly had a triple double (17 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) and the Thunder put up plenty of points on one of the best defenses in the game. Consider this a reminder that when healthy, when focused like they will be come the playoffs, the Thunder are an elite team who can score on anyone.

source:  Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets. Somebody hopped in the Hot Tub Time Machine because that was some Utah era D-Will right there — 28 points, leading every Nets starter into double digits. As a team Brooklyn shot 58.6 percent and scored 116.3 points per 100 possessions. The Suns have not exactly been defending well but that is the kind of offensive night that Jason Kidd hopes to see more of in the playoffs.

source:  Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks. The reason the Knicks have any playoff life was the recent collapse of the Hawks, now they need wins. So they need more nights like this one with 28 from Millsap — he scored the first eight of the third quarter when the Hawks put together runs to come from six down to take control of the game. Pero Antic and Kyle Korver played well for the Hawks, but Millsap was the best player on the floor and that’s why Atlanta won.

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Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.