Kurt Helin

Getty Images

Three things we learned on Tuesday: Paraphrasing Nuggets’ Mike Malone, “My kingdom for a leader”

1 Comment

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.

Report: Knicks interested in trading for Suns’ P.J. Tucker

Getty Images
9 Comments

The Knicks are a mess defensively. They have the fifth-worst defense in the NBA for the season, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions, and that has taken a step back to 110.3 per 100 during the current five-game losing streak. Assistant coach Kurt Rambis was given the task mid-season of taking over the defense, but with this roster — Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose are not exactly lock down defenders, and Joakim Noah is well past his Defensive Player of the Year prime if he could even stay healthy — it is like handing him a flank steak and asking him to turn it into a rib eye.

The Knicks are also just half a game out of the eight seed, and they know defense is the key to turning things around.

Which is why they are eyeing Phoenix’s physical wing defender P.J. Tucker in a trade, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

There could, however, be some roster changes ahead. The trade deadline is less than two months away, and the Knicks, like every other team in the NBA, are looking at their options. It doesn’t seem as if any move is imminent, but some members of the Knicks’ front office have labeled Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker as a potential trade target, league sources told ESPN.com.

The club is in need of tough defenders, and Tucker has earned a reputation as a strong defender over his five-year career. This season, he ranks 22nd among 80 qualified small forwards in ESPN’s defensive RPM. That might not seem like an elite measurement, but Tucker would certainly seem to be an upgrade for a Knicks club in need of one.

The Suns should be active sellers at the deadline — Brandon Knight could be had — and moving Tucker could mean more run for Dragan Bender. Which is a good thing.

The challenge for the Knicks is they have to give to get — the rebuilding (even if they won’t admit it) Suns will want young talent in return. If I were the Suns I would ask for Willy Hernangomez, and if I were the Knicks I would counter with Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Would Phil Jackson trade picks for a rental defender like Tucker and a playoff push?

Tucker is the final year of a contract paying him $5.3 million, so the Knicks would have to spend this summer to keep him.

The Knicks may not get Tucker, but keep an eye out for them to go after someone who can defend on the perimeter as the trade deadline approaches.

LeBron James gave Jrue Holiday some support before tip-off Monday

Associated Press
1 Comment

Jrue Holiday missed the start of the NBA season as his wife — Lauren, a former Team USA soccer player with a gold medal and a World Cup title to her name — first gave birth to their child, then underwent brain surgery for a tumor. With the team’s blessing, he stayed home through camp and the start of the season to do the more important job of supporting his family. Fortunately, both mother and child are doing well.

Holiday is back the team now and, not coincidentally, the Pelicans are suddenly moving into the hunt for the final playoff spot in the West.

Before the Pelicans took on the Cavaliers on Monday, LeBron James approached Holiday to him and gave him a little tap on the chest. Dave McMenamin of ESPN asked the participants about it.

“When we heard about it, me and my family and my wife heard about it, we were in L.A. at the time in the offseason and we automatically had a prayer for her,” James told ESPN of Holiday’s situation. “This is a brotherhood, no matter if you’re on the same team or not, this is a fraternity. Our league is a fraternity. Any time someone’s family is going through a situation like that, you just hope the greater God above is looking out for him. So, I couldn’t wait to actually see him today.”

“Obviously to him, family means more than anything,” Holiday told ESPN. “And the same thing for me. So, the fact that they’ve been praying and supporting my wife is a blessing to me.”

That’s a classy move by LeBron.

There are a lot of us out here happy to see Holiday back on the court, and not just because of his play.

Check out Top 10 long distance shots of 2016 (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

You went back to work today and now you need a distraction. We completely understand.

How about guys sinking long-range bombs in NBA games. That work for you?

Above is a look back at the best long-distance shots of 2016 — the buzzer beaters that fell. There is some Lou Williams,  Vince Carter and Andre Drummond, but the top spots go to the ridiculous game winners — Emmanuel Mudiay and some guy named Stephen Curry.

First time Jason Kidd benched Giannis Antetokounmpo angry youngster decided to check Kidd’s career stats

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Associated Press
6 Comments

If you grew up a hoops fan in America, you know who Jason Kidd is — NBA champion, gold medalist, six-time All-NBA, nine-time All-defensive, 10-time All-Star, future Hall of Famer and one of the great point guards ever to play the game. He’s now the Bucks’ coach.

Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up in the United States.

Antetokounmpo’s adjustment from a guy playing in the Greek second division to budding NBA superstar — this year he should play in his first All-Star Game — is the focus of a brilliant feature by Lee Jenkins at Sports Illustrated. You should read the whole thing. But as an illustration of how little Antetokounmpo knew about the NBA, there is this anecdote from the story.

The first time Kidd benched him, Antetokounmpo was irate. “I was like, ‘Let’s see what this guy did in his career, anyway,’ ” Antetokounmpo recounts, and called up Kidd’s bio on his phone. “I saw Rookie of the Year, NBA championship, USA Olympic gold medal, second in assists, fifth in made threes, blah, blah, blah. I was like, ‘Jesus freaking Christ, how can I compete with that? I better zip it.’ ”

Kidd has come to trust Antetokounmpo more and more, and has unleashed him as a point guard in the Bucks offense (which is eighth best in the NBA this season). He has all the skills. He is a relentless driver of the lane — Antetokounmpo leads the NBA in points in the paint per game (more than DeMarcus Cousins, although Cousins does have a better outside shot). Antetokounmpo knows to finish, and he is a gifted passer learning how to run the offense.

Imagine how dangerous he will be when his jumper becomes consistent? Look at his shot chart for the season:

Antetokounmpo shot chart