NBA Playoffs: Nuggets limited by defensive execution, but also offensive scheme

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anthony_ref.jpgThere’s no question that Denver’s inability to play defense is a big reason why they find themselves on the brink of elimination, but TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz has discovered something of an oddity in the Nuggets’ deliberately inefficient offense:

The Denver Nuggets have a secret arsenal of nearly unstoppable plays. There’s only one hitch headed into Game 5:
Acting head coach Adrian Dantley isn’t sure he can get his team to run them.

That’s because the Nuggets see themselves as a certain kind of
basketball team with an anti-system. Mike D’Antoni has
7-seconds-or-less. Phil Jackson has The Triangle. Jerry Sloan has The
Flex. And Dantley has inherited from George Karl what he’s referred to
more than once as “random basketball.”

What does “random basketball” mean? That’s Dantley’s description of
how the Nuggets perceive themselves offensively — a team that
flourishes by pounding you with dominant one-on-one play in the half
court and with breakneck transition buckets. Dantley isn’t the only one
to make that general characterization. When asked about the Nuggets’
woeful assist total of 13 following Game 4, Chauncey Billups conceded,
“We aren’t really a high-assist team. That’s not how our offense is
made.”


A stubborn devotion to “random basketball” is one of the reasons
Denver’s offense has fallen off since Game 1, and there’s something
obtuse about the Nuggets’ unwillingness to construct coherent
possessions in the half court against Utah. When the Nuggets choose to
run deliberate sets, they’re shredding the Jazz — particularly on the
pick-and-roll.

Arnovitz goes on to dissect the strengths of the Nuggets’ 3-5 pick-and-roll, making particular note of the effectiveness of Carmely Anthony and Nene in such situations. The most troubling part of Arnovitz’s excellent piece, though, ared the cries from acting head coach/substitute teacher Adrian Dantley, who claims that not only is he aware of how effective the team has been with the pick-and-roll, but has implored his players to run more of them.

Maybe this is where the Nuggets miss George Karl, who if nothing else was a superior coach in his ability to manage and connect with his players. Then again, Karl’s commitment to “random basketball” could be equally zealous and misplaced, leaving Dantley as one of the few guys on the bench left shaking his head after Denver runs another isolation play.

This particular assembly of players in Denver is not an easy one to reach, particularly for a coach with little experience as a showrunner. Even Karl has struggled with the task at times, despite that aspect of coaching being considered his strength; George is first and foremost a manager of personnel and personalities, as opposed to a strict X-and-O type.

So while Dantley’s struggle to reach this team may indeed say something about his prospects as a head coach, it’s hard to read Arnovitz’s account (supposing you take Dantley’s comments at face value) and see Adrian as anything other than the guy in the room that gets it. He may not get the communication aspect of coaching just yet — at least not with this team — but the indications from the top are that Dantley is telling his players the right things, but something lost in translation to the hardwood. 

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
Photo courtesy College Park Skyhawks
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.