NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

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Last season: The Nuggets continue to out-perform expectations while never really accomplishing anything of note.

They battled through all the roster turnover from one year to the next and a slew of quietly really damaging injuries to land the sixth seed last season after a hot start. Danilo Gallinari suffered two significant injuries that severely limited his ability to make the kind of impact he did at the start of the season where he looked like the best player on the team.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried emerged as a huge part of their future, and helped justify dumping Nene’s $13 million per year deal to get rid of an injury-riddled veteran. They brought in JaVale McGee with all his nonsense and faults, and the results were mixed. He had some genuinely electric playoff moments, but was still JaVale McGee.

They ran up against the Lakers and dug a hole. It looked over and they would quietly exit the playoffs. Instead, they battled back relentlessly and forced a game 7 against a team they were out-matched against, but didn’t have enough to get over the hump on the road. The result was the same, and the same questions lingered for Denver.

Key Departures: Arron Afflalo was the Nuggets’ best offensive weapon over the past three years, and now he’s wearing a deeper blue in Orlando. Al Harrington was a versatile scorer who put in a suprising amount of work defensively last year, and he’s also gone.

Rudy Fernandez headed home after threatening it for a half-decade, and Birdman Andersen was amnestied to make way for the future.

Key Additions: Denver snuck into the Dwight Howard trade and used their assets to grab Andre Iguodala. Iguodala gives them a hyper versatile forward who can run, rebound, pass, score, and defend at an elite level. He should fit in really well with the athleticism of Denver, and will be relied upon as the primary defensive stopper for George Karl. It cost a lot to get him but made them an overall much superior team.

They drafted Frenchman Evan Fournier in the first round and instead of sticking him overseas, have brought him over. The Nuggets already have more wings than they know what to do with, so Fournier likely won’t get many minutes this season. They also brought in Quincy Miller, who’s in a similar situation. They just have too much depth on the wings.

Anthony Randolph gives them another athletic big man to run the floor with and his ability to stretch the floor is something George Karl should get mileage out of as well.

Three keys to the Nuggets season:

1) Does speed kill the defense?: Karl has talked in the preseason about not needing to get into the elite level in traditional categories, but getting the defense overall into the good territory so that their point differential increases. There’s no plan to slow down the offense, so the question is, can you run a fast-pace team who also defends well?

To try and get it done, Karl will focus on the team’s athleticism in an attempt to pressure the ball and get into passing lanes. There will be a reliance on Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov as shot-blockers to “intimidate” defensivel, as Karl said on media day.

It’s never been a reliable method for improving defense. You usually have to grind the game down to give yourself time to set into your defensive positions and rotations, and an up and down game naturally opens the floor up for both teams. That will be the biggest challenge this season.

2.) Find shooters, or invent them. Danilo Gallinari has been snakebit the past two years. Whether it was injury, adjustment or bad luck, a normally reliable shooter tailed off the past two years. It came with an improvement in driving and drawing fouls, but the Nuggets still need him to stretch the floor.

They lack shooters, and their replacement options are unproven. Corey Brewer has historically been an awful perimeter shooter. Fournier is too green to see much court time. Ty Lawson can drill, but that would require someone else running the offense a majority of the time. He’ll get his, but they still need another option. Jordan Hamilton may be that fit. The second-year man out of Texas has great length and a reliable form. If the shooters don’t come around, the offense will still be good but not good enough.

3.) The Break’s Over, Here Comes The Takeover. Ty Lawson is going to have to take over the game at times. Andre Iguodala may be the most gifted player on the team, but Lawson has the ability to own the opponent with huge shots. That’s got be his role, and helping get Iguodala going will be a big part of it. At the same time, Lawson simply has to be the primary offensive threat and make himself into a household name. It’s a big step in front of him.

What Nuggets fans should fear: The defense can’t get a grip in the fast pace, Iguodala doesn’t make enough of an impact and no center emerges to protect the rim. McGee struggles as always and that contract becomes disastrous. There are no shooters and teams know to pack the paint and let the Nuggets shoot. Kenneth Faried hits his ceiling, none of the other players make jumps, and the team bobs along at the same level it has for two years.

How it likely works out: No reason to think Denver can’t challenge for the third seed. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried alone is a triumverate worthy of consideration in the West. When you factor their style, how well the roster is built, their depth, and the likelihood of at least a few players improving to the point of relevance, the Nuggets will once again be a fun team to watch who wins a bunch of games.

And yet still not title contenders.

Prediction: 51-31. Denver cracks 50 wins without a superstar, plays at a high level, thrills fans and league pass addicts, then loses in a tough second-round series. What is what what was is what shall be.

Nets GM Sean Marks gets suspended for going into ref’s locker room after Game 4

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Emotions are high as the playoffs move into the second week. Things got a little testy between the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night as Jared Dudley got in the face of Joel Embiid after the Sixers big man committed a hard foul on Jared Allen.

That caused Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler to respond to Dudley, who overreacted to a good, hard playoff foul by Embiid. The result of the fracas was an ejection for Butler and Dudley, and a flagrant 1 on embiid.

But apparently that’s not the end of the disciplinary process for the NBA.

Nets general manager Sean Marks went into the officials locker room after the game — no doubt to discuss what happened here — which is a big problem in the eyes of the league.

According to a release by the NBA, Marks has been suspended for one game without pay and has been fined $25,000.

Marks will be suspended for Game 5 between these two teams on April 23rd.

The playoffs are high-stakes, but Embiid blocking the crap out of somebody shouldn’t result in someone going crazy like Dudley did.

Philadelphia beat the Nets, 112-108.

Everyone’s hero is dad who pulls son away from Nets/76ers fracas (VIDEO)

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Fathers everywhere can relate to this one.

You set up a bonding experience with your son or daughter, one you hope will leave an impression on them and create a memory that will last a lifetime… for example, you get courtside seats, just behind the basket, for one of the first NBA playoff games in Brooklyn, ever.

Then everything hits the fan.

Joel Embiid commits a flagrant foul on Jarrett Allen, Jared Dudley rushes in and shoves Embiid to stand up for his teammate, Jimmy Butler runs in to shove Dudley on the same premise, and suddenly there is a wave of large professional athletes about to trample you and your son. So, you grab him, move onto the court, and get out of the way.

There were two fathers with the same thought, one on either side of the fracas that spills into the first row.

Well done Dads. Well done, indeed.

Andrew Bogut says he plans to return to Australian league next season

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Unable to find a new NBA contract for this season, Andrew Bogut went home. The Australia native signed to play for the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL, where Bogut ended up being the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, leading the Kings on a deep playoff run.

When that run ended, the Golden State Warriors came calling, asking him to fill a role — a role that got much larger after DeMarcus Cousins tore his quad. Bogut has played well for the Warriors in the postseason, and there is a good chance Cousins will not be back in Golden State (the Warriors can only offer him a small raise off what he made this season, that likely will not be enough, even after the injury), so the Warriors may try to retain Bogut for next season.

However, Bogut says he is returning to Australia. Speaking to Matt Logue from the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, Bogut said he gave his word to the Kings he would return.

“The be all and end all is that I gave my word (to the Kings)… That is basically what it comes down to…

“Someone outside of the Warriors could offer me a deal that would be pretty lucrative and a decent one-year deal, but I’m sold and locked in on coming to the Sydney Kings again to try and better what we did last season.”

Saying you’ll walk away from a lot of money and actually doing it are two different things, but Bogut is a man who stands by his word. He probably returns to Sydney for next season.

When that season ends, however, don’t be shocked to see Bogut back somewhere in the NBA helping a team make a playoff run.

Joel Embiid calls Jared Dudley “a nobody” (but NBA Twitter shows Dudley love)

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Jared Dudley has been in the face of the Philadelphia 76ers all series.

He was the guy who said Ben Simmons was “average” in the halfcourt (which echoed every scouting report on Simmons ever), prompting Simmons to respond, “It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.” The feud between the Sixers and Dudley was brewing.

Then came Sunday, when Dudley was ejected after coming to the defense of teammate Jarrett Allen, who had taken a hard foul from Joel Embiid. Dudley pushed Embiid, then Jimmy Butler pushed Dudley, then everybody got in a shoving match, and when the dust settled Dudley and Butler were ejected.

In his postgame interview after the Philly win, Embiid said Dudley was “a nobody.”

“First of all, he’s a nobody. And when opponents try to do stuff like that, that’s just to get us out of the game. Especially, I’m too valuable for my team. That’s why I didn’t react.”

That may be how the Sixers feel about Dudley at this point, but Nets fans and NBA Twitter loved the way Dudley stood up to Embiid and everyone else. This is just a taste.