Denver 93, Houston 87: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets get freaky

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Crunch time. Two possession game. James Harden has been completely locked up due to some stingy perimeter defense, but he still lurks as a viable closer. Rockets forward Patrick Patterson is hitting corner 3-pointers, which is apparently a thing that happens now. This has been a sloppy game, but it’s winning time for the Nuggets. Time to put your best lineup on the floor and seal this thing.

So who does Nuggets head coach George Karl trot out to close the game? Oh, just your standard four forward, Lawson-Brewer-Iguodala-Gallinari-Faried lineup that would make every coach not named Don Nelson blush.

That’s what makes the Nuggets fun to watch, even when they sometimes really aren’t. They can go through a brutal third period where nothing happens offensively, but you still can’t turn away, even as they turn over the ball 21 times on the game. There’s just something so alluring about the endless possibilities the Nuggets present — the chance that you’ll see something unique when watching them. It’s the chance that you’ll see something that can’t really be matched by any other team.

Or, ya know, it’s the chance to watch someone like Kenneth Faried.

Denver’s second year forward hogged all the eyeballs in this one, stealing Harden’s (ahem) thunder as he took over the game with some incredible displays of athleticism, leading the Nuggets to a 93-87 victory over the Rockets.

The beginning of the end came off a fine assist late in the fourth quarter from Andre Miller, whose sole purpose in life is to throw picture perfect lobs. This particular lob was about as good as it gets — from behind half court, Miller gauged the timing just right and put the ball on the mark for a streaking Faried. All of Faried’s tightly wound 6-foot-8 frame exploded into the air in a jaw-dropping display of athleticism that, again, makes the mind race with possibilities.

Faried’s next big play may have been even better. As James Harden did his trademark arms in front, sweep through the lane move, Faried tracked him step for step and timed his attempt at the rim perfectly, turning away a player who had come in averaging 35 points a game. Although Harden’s 5-for-15, 6 turnover performance can mostly be attributed to some killer perimeter defense from Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, it was Faried playing the role of rim protector and primary rebounder when the game got tight, something you wouldn’t necessarily expect with three viable 7-footers on the sideline.

What we’re seeing in Denver is something that’s been in the cards for a while now. The positional revolution is something we’ve all been whispering about, but lumbering 7-footers and “big” shooting guards still roam the plains. George Karl, however, just acts like a kid at the soda fountain, pouring a bit of each flavor into a cup and happily testing how it turns out.

And really, it takes a coaching staff willing to experiment (do you hear this, Kevin McHale?) and look past the labels for a play like Miller-to-Faried to even happen. Like “Moneyball” displayed so wonderfully, it needs to be a mindset that permeates throughout every level of the organization. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey probably loves the idea of Royce White’s versatility, but if Kevin McHale doesn’t play him, what does it matter?

There’s no such disconnect in Denver, and the result is Miller (playing shooting guard) throwing dimes to Faried (playing center) and inspiring the imagination. And if things go well in Denver this season? Maybe they’ll also ignite the revolution.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.