DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Head coach Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a foul call while playing the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Three things we learned on Tuesday: Paraphrasing Nuggets’ Mike Malone, “My kingdom for a leader”

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We know you weren’t keeping up on Tuesday night’s NBA games because you were watching a Burmese Python and alligator fight, so we’ve got you covered. Here are the big takeaways of the night.

1) Flat Nuggets fall to Kings, fall out of playoffs, leave Mike Malone searching for leaders. It is just game 35 of 82, it’s just January, and the Denver Nuggets were on the second night of a back-to-back. Which is to say, there are plenty of reasons not to read too much into this one game.

However, for Denver that one game Tuesday was against Sacramento — the team the Nuggets were tied with for the final playoff spot in the West. And Denver came out flat. They struggled to slow DeMarcus Cousins — they put Wilson Chandler on him early, but he was overpowered by Cousins’ inside and struggled to stay in front of guards when the pick-and-roll was switched — who finished the game with 31 points. Darren Collison added 26. The Kings got the 120-113 win relatively easily, which for a day gives them the lock on the eight seed in the West.

What frustrated coach Mike Malone wasn’t just the loss, it was his team coming out flat in a game that had meaning. He looked at his young team and said it lacked veteran leadership.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NBAWind/status/816506287156527106

He’s not wrong, Denver is inconsistent and at some point that stability and professionalism has to come from the players, not just the coach. Malone seemed to make a call to Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Mike Miller and Danilo Gallinari to step it up.

As for the playoff chase in the West: are seven teams in the West that look like playoff locks if they can stay healthy — Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Utah, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City, and Memphis. After them it’s a 5.5 game drop to teams: Sacramento is the eight seed right now, Portland is one game back, Denver 1.5 games, and the Pelicans are are just two back. All those teams are in the mix for one playoff spot, so when they face each other it matters. Denver didn’t play with that sense of urgency.

There are seven teams that look like playoff locks if they can stay healthy — Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Utah, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City, and Memphis. That group has separated itself, it’s a 5.5 game drop to the teams battling for the last ticket to the dance: Sacramento is the eight seed right now, Portland is one game back, Denver 1.5 games, and the Pelicans are are just 2 back. If I had to place my money on one team in that group it would be Portland, just because they have the talent and have reached that stage before. But in fact, it will come down to health and which team makes the smart moves at the trade deadline.

Malone’s point is valid — when one of those four teams going for one spot face each other it is the kind of game your team needs to be up and focused for. Tuesday night Denver didn’t play with that sense of urgency. They looked young and inconsistent. He can rant all he wants, but some of that has to come from the players, not top-down from the coach.

2) Play of the night goes to Sixers, game-winner to beat Minnesota. It was a wild ending in Philadelphia. Minnesota — which has played better, if not consistent, defense of late — held the Sixers to just 14 fourth-quarter points and made a comeback. Joel Embiid tried to put the dagger in the Timberwolves with six seconds left, but Karl-Anthony Towns rejected him.

That set up a Ricky Rubio three that tied the game at 91-91 with 1.6 seconds left. Brett Brown drew up a clever little play — the SLOB play, which starts to look like the “elevator doors” play the Warriors love to run but ends with Robert Covington rolling to the rim relatively uncontested for the bucket. Sixers fans, give some love to Dario Saric for that pass.

3) Spurs thrash Raptors, which leads to the question “will Toronto be buyers at trade deadline?” Tuesday night the Raptors completed their six-game, West Coast road trip and they went 3-3. Teams often fall flat in the last game of a long trip and the Raptors lived up to that, getting thrashed by the Spurs 110-82, with Kawhi Leonard scoring 25 to lead San Antonio. The result here isn’t a shock regardless of the timing, the Spurs are the better team. But this does lead to another question:

Do the Raptors need to be active buyers at the trade deadline?

On this road trip, the Raptors got thrashed by the Warriors and Spurs. Toronto is 0-3 against Cleveland this season. As we have said in this space more than once, the Raptors have a defined spot in the NBA hierarchy right now — they are the second best team in the East, but a clear step or two behind the elite of the NBA.

The Raptors have a window to challenge the Cavaliers at the top of the East, but they need one more star player — ideally at the four. Which is why if the Hawks actually are making Paul Millsap available — and that is not certain, it’s being debated internally in Atlanta — Toronto needs to be buyers. That comes with the questions of what are the Raptors willing to surrender (All-Stars don’t come cheap) and are they willing to give him a max contract this summer to keep him? Or, to cut more to the chase, are the Raptors ready to go all in? Or does GM Masai Ujiri want to save his chips and see if there are better options available this summer? Toronto went hard after Pau Gasol last summer and thought they were in the mix, but he chose the Spurs. Do they want to take that risk again this summer?

This is the golden age of Raptors basketball — this is the best teams they have ever had, and last season was the franchise’s first trip to the Conference Finals. Toronto is very good. But they are in the conference with LeBron James. If they want to compete for it all, they need to take one more step. Will they be able to do that at the trade deadline is the question.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.

Jabari Parker held out of Bucks lineup vs. Heat for breaking team rule

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MIAMI (AP) Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is out of the starting lineup for the first time this season Saturday night at Miami after breaking a team rule.

Parker will play coming off the bench, coach Jason Kidd said.

Kidd declined to elaborate on the move, which came after the Bucks held a long players-only meeting following a loss Friday at Orlando. The meeting got heated at times, and Parker said he wasn’t well received when he expressed his point of view.

Parker has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Thon Maker, making his first career start.

Gregg Popovich on Trump: “Can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth” (VIDEO)

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Today across the country many hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets as part of the Women’s March to protest Donald Trump, his misogyny as demonstrated in prior comments made about women, and policies he’s promised to put in place to weaken women’s health including defunding Planned Parenthood and gutting the Affordable Care Act. Gregg Popovich, no stranger to speaking his mind about Trump, was asked about the marches today and how he felt about the former reality TV star’s first hours in office.

Popovich responded for around four minutes, spanning a wide breadth of topics including Trump’s maturity level, respect for the presidential office, and Trump’s cabinet members waffling on implied meaning when he insulted a handicapped reporter in November of 2015.

Via Cleveland.com:

I wish that he was more — had the ability to be mature enough to do something that really is inclusive rather than just talking and saying ‘I’m going to include everybody.” He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it, but so far we’ve got a point where you really can’t believe anything that comes of his mouth.

Popovich also expressed his frustration with Trump’s insecurities, referencing his need to discuss the size of the inauguration crowd from Friday — reported widely by major news outlets in both text and video/photographic evidence — as far smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.

“I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity, psychological, and emotional level of somebody that was his age,” said Popovich, adding, “It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist, and make fun of handicap people.”

It’s an interesting period in American history to be sure. Things are at such a fever pitch after Trump’s election that whether people like it or not — and no doubt many won’t like Popovich’s comments or this article about it — the lines between diversion and real life, including politics, has begun to blur.

It’s great to see that coaches and players in the NBA are able to speak their minds about topics openly like this, perhaps surprisingly so when you consider the amount of money involved for the league and teams.

If you’d like to read the full comments you can do so here:

Ricky Rubio will miss Nuggets game for personal reasons

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ricky Rubio has left the Minnesota Timberwolves for personal reasons and will miss at least the next game on Sunday against Denver.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau says he expects Rubio to get back into town late Sunday and rejoin the team for practice on Monday.

Rubio did not play in the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night because of tightness in his left hip. Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones filled in admirably, helping the Wolves defeat the Clippers, 104-101.

Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the season, with the belief that Thibodeau would prefer a point guard who shoots better from the perimeter. In his previous five full games, Rubio was averaging 13.2 points and 14.0 assists.