Nene is an elite player

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The Denver Nuggets’ post-Carmelo play has been one of the best stories of the second half of the season. The Nuggets had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball before trading Anthony, and they haven’t skipped a beat offensively since the trade. More importantly, the Nuggets have transformed themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the league since the trade. Having the league’s best offense with a great defense is a very good thing, and the Nuggets have been on an absolute tear since they made the trade.

The Nuggets’ post-Carmelo success has hardly been a secret, but here’s one question that hasn’t been asked enough in the wake of the Nuggets’ success: if Nene (nee Nene Hilario) can be the starting center for one of the best defensive teams in the league, why isn’t he one of the best centers in the league?

Consider the following:

– Nene’s “True Shooting” percentage is currently 66.5%, which is the second highest true shooting percentage in the league. Nene averages 14.8 points per game. That is an incredible combination of scoring volume and efficiency — only Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Cedric Maxwell, and Darryl Dawkins have ever averaged more than 14.5 points on 66.5% or better True Shooting over the course of a full season.

– Nene is a skilled passer, and his turnover ratio is solid as well.

– Nene has a lower usage rate and a higher PER than Chris Bosh.

Basically, if you have any doubt that Nene is one of the best offensive centers in basketball, you haven’t been paying attention. Nene is a versatile offensive player who can do damage in post-up situations, is an absolute master of creating scoring opportunities for himself without the ball in his hands, is an excellent finisher around the basket who can run the floor, is a good free-throw shooter, and can even step out and make mid-range jumpers.

His statistical accomplishments are beyond reproach, and he has one of the best offensive +/- ratings on a team that has had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball for most of the season. (In case you’re wondering, the loss of Carmelo hasn’t impacted Nene’s offense in the slightest — he averaged 14.8 points per game on 60% shooting from the field in March.)

The question with Nene has always been his defense. The Nuggets had been a below-average defensive team for the last two years, and Nene looked like part of the problem. He has never been much of a shot-blocker, and he was prone to missing rotations and seemingly taking plays off on defense. Nobody questioned Nene’s offense, but there were some worries about whether or not Nene put a glass ceiling on a team’s defense.

With the way the Nuggets have been playing defense since Carmelo left, it appears that no glass ceiling exists. Playing alongside Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin helps, but Nene has been buying in and using his athleticism to disrupt opposing offenses, and he definitely has been a valuable part of the Nuggets’ stifling new-look defense. Simply put, it’s time to give Nene his due as one of the best centers in basketball.

This is a good news/bad news situation for the Nuggets. On the bright side, their starting center is one of the best centers in the league, and will increase their chances of going far in the playoffs. On the other hand, Nene can opt out of his contract after this season, and will command serious money on the open market if the lockout doesn’t muck things up too badly and front offices have a lick of sense. Nene made 11.4 million dollars this season, and it will likely cost the Nuggets more than that to retain the 28-year old’s services.

Denver is being billed as a team that has succeeded without a superstar, but the truth is that Nene has been producing like a superstar this season, and will get paid like one next season. The only question is by whom.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.