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Three things we learned Monday: Nuggets serve Warriors slice of “humble cupcake”

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It’s Monday, and you have other important things to do — such as follow the exploits of the “Trumpagator” — so you may not have been focused on the NBA. We’ve got your back, here are the big takeaways from a night in the NBA.

1) Nuggets serve Warriors slice of “humble cupcake.” This is the NBA — if you don’t take an opponent seriously, you will get humbled. Everybody in the NBA can ball. As an example, let’s say you are the best team in the NBA — fresh off an emotional thrashing of a rival in Oklahoma City and wearing cupcake shirts — and you roll into Denver to take on a Nuggets team without Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay or just acquired Mason Plumlee. Easy win, right?

Wrong.

Denver could not miss from the outside Monday night, tying an NBA record with 24 made threes, on their way to thrashing the Warriors 132-110. Don’t come ready to play in the NBA, you get beat.

Denver’s star Nikola Jokic had his second career triple-double with 17 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists. Juan Hernangomez had a career-high 27 points including hitting six threes. When I say Denver couldn’t miss from the outside, look at their shot chart.

Nuggets shotchart

Let’s not be silly and say this could portend something if these two teams meet in the playoffs (as of now this would be the first-round matchup). This was a one-off. Golden State is the better team, Monday night Denver was the hotter one. The win also speaks to why Denver may be good enough to hold on to that final playoff slot, and serves as a reminder you can’t just roll the ball out there and expect to get a win in the NBA.

2) The model of consistency, Spurs win Monday secures 20th straight winning season. San Antonio has had its ugly losses this season, too (see Sunday against the Knicks), but there has been no better model of consistency in the NBA than the Spurs.

With a 110-106 win over the Pacers on Monday, the Spurs improved to 42-13, ensuring the franchise’s 20th straight winning season. The last time the Spurs had a losing season (1997) gas cost $1.22, a movie ticket was $5, Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and the Notorious B.I.G. was shot. And remember, they had seven winning seasons in a row before that one, they only fell off the map in 1996-97 due to injuries to David Robinson and others (the Spurs ended up with the No. 1 pick out of that terrible season and drafted Tim Duncan).

It’s amazing how consistent this franchise is, and while Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford deserve all the credit they get, that kind of consistency starts at the ownership level. There is not a better run organization in sports.

3) Charlotte loses again, this time to Sixers, and it’s stunning to see how far this team has fallen. When the calendar flipped to 2017, the Charlotte Hornets were 19-15, with a pedestrian offense carried by Kemba Walker and a top 10 NBA defense.

Since then the Hornets have gone 5-16, with a pedestrian defense overall and an offense that is bottom 10 – it Kemba Walker against the world.

Nicolas Batum tried to motivate the team by guaranteeing a win Monday night against the Sixers. It worked to motivate a team — Philadephia. The Sixers — playing without Joel Embiid (injury) or Jahlil Okafor (holding him out due to serious trade talks) — outworked the Hornets on the glass, and the Sixers won 105-99.

It must be something in the water in Charlotte, first the Panthers under perform and now the Hornets. Charlotte has a decent roster, a good coach, we thought the loss of Jeremy Lin and the depth might have this team take a small step back from last season, but not just drop off a cliff. This team simply should not be as bad as it has been the past couple months, even with the injury to Cody Zeller. Yet here we are. The Hornets are not physical enough, and while other teams — like the Sixers — are coming together the Hornets are not improving and seem to be pulling apart. It’s hard to picture this team making the playoffs at this point (they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed, but the way the Hornets are playing does not portend a turnaround).

GM Rich Cho, owner Michael Jordan, and coach Steve Clifford need to have a real tough postmortem after this season and figure out how to get this roster moving forward. There is too much talent in Charlotte for this team to be this bad.

Jeff Hornacek on Joakim Noah: “We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on”

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Not that anyone actually thought Joakim Noah would be back with the Knicks this season — not after Noah and coach Jeff Hornacek got into an argument that ended with Noah shoving his coach.

But if anyone thought with Kristaps Porzingis out for the season with a torn ACL the Knicks might turn to Porzingis for a little boost, think again. Via Al Iannazzone at Newsday as the Knicks got back to post All-Star practice.

“There’s really nothing more to say about it, update it. We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on and maybe have an opportunity somewhere else. That’s really our focus to go play Orlando. We have 23 games left. We’re trying to get our young guys to step it up. That’s kind of old story and all done with as far as I’m concerned.”

The Knicks would love to trade Noah, but he has the most untradable contract in the NBA — two years, $37.8 million left after this season. It would take the Knicks attaching a couple of first-round picks and taking back some dead salary to make it happen. The Knicks may eventually buy him out, but the more likely option is they keep him through the summer (in case he is needed as salary in a trade), and possibly into next season (depending upon how big a discount he would give the team to be bought out and move on).

Trail Blazers hope for another post-All-Star break revival

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers have enjoyed post-All-Star break revivals the past two seasons.

Those late-season rallies will no doubt be an ongoing theme in the congested Western Conference playoff race once Portland resumes play on Friday in Utah.

“I mean, I think that’s in the back of our minds. We know that we’re usually a better team in the second half of the season,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “We can’t just go into it saying, `All right, we’re always good at this part of the season.’ I think mentally we have to understand how close of a race it is and that we’ve got to be sharp all the way through.”

Portland is 32-26 at the break, tied for sixth in the West, which is better off than it was last season at the same point.

But the Blazers are one of five teams in the West with 26 losses. The Warriors and Houston Rockets sit comfortably atop the standings with the next eight teams jostling for position.

The Blazers headed into the All-Star Game with a 123-117 victory over Golden State, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors. Lillard had 44 points, his third straight game with 39 or more and the best scoring stretch of his career. His 133 points over the last three games is the best such run in franchise history.

Afterward, Lillard sounded like he was taking it upon himself to improve the Blazers’ playoff position.

“Each season, it’s always a few teams that fall by the wayside and we’ve just got to make sure we’re not one of them,” he said. “As a leader, I’ve got to be the guy to lead that charge.”

In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break after winning eight of nine games going into it. The Blazers finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.

Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put them 11 games under .500.

But in March, Portland caught fire and went 13-3, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 16 games. Terry Stotts was named Coach of the Month.

Center Jusuf Nurkic, who came to Portland in a trade a handful of days before the All-Star break, went on to average 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers. Portland was 14-5 with the 7-footer in the starting lineup.

Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.

This season, Portland is in the thick of the race. Lillard leads the team with 26.1 points per game, sixth in the league, while also averaging 6.6 assists. Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum is averaging 21.7 points, and Nurkic is at 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Stotts was asked just before the break whether he was happy with the team’s position.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of teams out there fighting for playoff spots,” the coach said. “It’s not about where we are. It’s about where we’re headed.”

 

Karl Malone pranks Anthony Davis in new Redbull video

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Karl Malone still has a few moves left.

Not so much on the court, but the Hall of Famer and one of the greatest power forwards ever was disguised as “Sam the Maintenance Man” where he would disrupt a video shoot by New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis (who thought he was making a basketball video for redbull.com). Malone was decked out in a traditional janitor onesie, a wig of dreadlocks, glasses and extra padding around his gut, and he had fun in his role.

At the end of the clip, you see Malone asking the cameras to cut so he could talk shop with AD on the left block, where Malone was near unstoppable. Check it out.

 

Statement defending self by former Mavs employee makes things sound worse

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In the argument that owner Mark Cuban must have known about the “Animal House” style sexual predatory environment on the business side of the Dallas Mavericks, a statement from a former Mavericks’ employee defending himself is now the best evidence. And it’s pretty damning.

One of the people mentioned directly in the bombshell Sports Illustrated story is former Mavs.com writer Earl K. Sneed. He was involved in a domestic dispute where he beat his then-girlfriend his first season with the Mavericks, then a few months later was arrested — at the Mavericks facility — for assault. He pled guilty to that and went through court-mandated anger management classes. He reportedly had another dispute in 2014 hitting a female co-worker which led to more counseling (this ordered by the team), and as a result of the court issues, he legally was not able to follow the team when it went into Canada to play the Raptors.

Sneed issued this statement to the Dallas Morning News defending himself.

“While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of [Mavs vice president of human resources] Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances. I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.”

So let me get this right: Sneed was hauled out of the Mavericks facility in handcuffs, then signed a new contract to stay on employed by the team (for four more years) where he could not do his job if the team went to Canada, and could not “have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees” — and Cuban didn’t know about any of this? That strains belief. Sneed’s statement sparked outrage on social media, as it should.

That Sneed stayed employed by the team speaks to the issues in the Mavericks human resources department and the team culture. Both Sneed and the head of HR have been fired in the wake of these stories.

The report says there are no incidents with Cuban, nor any members of the Mavericks basketball team, behaving inappropriately toward women.

Dallas and Cuban have hired an independent investigator to look into the claims and the workplace environment with the Mavericks. When that is done, expect NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to come down hard on the franchise, both to send a message to other franchises (there are rumors the Mavs are not the only one facing issues) and because this all is a big blow to the image of a league that paints itself as progressive.