Suns overcome another big deficit in comeback win over Nuggets

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PHOENIX — It’s getting to be a habit, and one the Suns are desperately trying to break. But for the third straight game, Phoenix fell behind by double digits early, only to rally late to make it a contest.

Monday night, the team got its second win in three of those tries by coming back from 10 down to get a hard-fought 110-100 win over the Nuggets.

“We don’t want to be one of those teams that has a great reputation of being a really good comeback team,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said before this one. “That sounds good, but on the flip side of that, why are you getting down? We’ve got to be more consistent in the way we play, that’s a reputation that I don’t think is a positive.”

The reputation is deserved so far in this young season, with Phoenix coming from 26 points down to beat the Cavaliers at home on Friday, then falling behind by 22 in Utah before pulling within five in the fourth the very next night, when the team ultimately ran out of gas.

The energy seemed limitless, though, against an athletic Denver team that got off to a very fast start.

It was 16-6 before the Suns knew what had happened, thanks to a very active and energetic seven quick points from Kenneth Faried. But that was as many points as Phoenix was willing to spot its opponent this time, as Goran Dragic answered with eight of his team’s next 10 on the way to evening things back up at 18.

“I don’t know what is going on with us, especially at the beginning of the games,” Dragic said, lamenting his team’s slow start once again. “We’re just not focused enough.”

Once the Suns came back, the focus was there the rest of the night, and so was a balanced attack from essentially the entire team that was the reason they were able to hold off these Nuggets.

Marcin Gortat went without a field goal for his third consecutive half, before finally finding his shot in the third quarter and then getting going a bit to finish the night. He, too, says the focus needs to improve from the very start.

“I feel like I’m ready to play, and I’m just missing easy bunnies around the rim,” he said. “Hopefully it’s going to go away. I’ve just got to stay more focused.”

Phoenix was able to control the tempo in the second half, and more importantly, control the basketball. The Suns had just one turnover in the second half to 10 for the Nuggets, and that, along with not getting absolutely killed on the boards by a more athletic Denver front line, made things relatively easy.

With the way Faried dominated inside early, it was worth wondering what might happen if Denver played Faried and JaVale McGee — who also had a strong game with 16 points on 12 shots in 24 minutes — for extended periods at the same time. It would seem to have been too much athleticism and devastation around the rim for the undersized and more, shall we say, fundamentally sound bigs on the Suns roster, yet Denver only went with the duo in brief spurts.

George Karl said afterward that the team is experimenting with lineups at this early stage, but that 20 or 30 games in he’ll have a better idea of what works together and what doesn’t.

What wasn’t working for Denver was its pick and roll defense, something that Dragic was able to exploit late in the game. Phoenix really just had too many performances all around for the Nuggets to deal with, including a breakout 13-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance from Markieff Morris, and yet another solid game from Shannon Brown (19 points, four assists) off the bench.

Brown is no different than the rest of the team, concerned about the consistently slow starts. But he preached patience afterward, which is obviously much easier to do after a quality win like this one.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out each other. We’ve got some guys that are too unselfish, that are thinking pass first and stuff like that instead of worrying about knocking down a jumpshot and letting the bigs clean up the rebound, or whatever it is. But it’s definitely going to come. It’s still early in the season.”

*****

Notes:

– Kenneth Faried took a scary fall in the fourth quarter, after being what initially was believed to be flagrantly fouled by Sebastian Telfair. It was a forearm from Telfair that upended Faried while he was airborne, causing him to slam hard against the floor right on his back.

It appeared for a moment that Faried may have hit his head, and he was down for a few minutes. But ultimately he walked off on his own, and was subbed back into the game not very long afterward. The officials reviewed the play via instant replay — which they are allowed to do now with all flagrant foul calls — and ruled that Telfair’s play, while still a foul, was not malicious and therefore not a flagrant.

– Goran Dragic has always been one of the nicest, friendliest, and most unassuming players in the game, even before he became a $10 million per-year face of the franchise in Phoenix. But he continued to show that side after Monday’s win, on Veteran’s Day when the team had many soldiers past and present in the building and sitting courtside.

After the game had ended, Dragic followed the rest of his teammates (save for the few that were conducting postgame on-court interviews) into the tunnel, where normally everyone heads straight for the locker room for a brief meeting with coaches and to begin to decompress. Dragic broke protocol, however, when he was stopped by a soldier in his camouflage fatigues who wanted a photo. He immediately obliged, and the soldier couldn’t have been happier or more excited.

“I love you man! You’re the best, Goran,” he yelled, as Dragic jogged toward the locker room after taking the time to pose. Really just a great moment to witness.

As front office looks toward free agency, starless Clippers winning now

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CHARLOTTE – The Clippers have no All-Stars here.

Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Montrezl Harrell. Not even Tobias Harris, who spent most of the season with L.A. before getting traded to the 76ers.

Heck, nobody who has played for the Clippers this season – including Gallinari, Harris and Lou Williams – has ever made an All-Star team.

No Clippers are participating in All-Star Saturday Night events, either. Their only representative here is rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Yet, the Clippers are an impressive 32-27.

“When you just have a bunch of guys that are selfless and just want to play for each other and just want to ultimately win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “things like that happen.”

The Clippers are on pace for one of the best-ever records for a team with no past or present All-Stars. Here all the all-time leaders (counting only seasons with an All-Star game):

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The Clippers’ success is particularly surprising because this was supposed to be a transitional year for them.

They moved on historically quickly from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin-DeAndre Joran Lob City era. Everyone from the Clippers’ 2012-17 teams was gone before the season even began. Since the early 1950s, only these Clippers, the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely turned over their rosters within two seasons.

The Clippers have made no secret of their interest in Kawhi Leonard. They’re also reportedly pursuing Kevin Durant. Jimmy Butler could be in the mix.

“The front office and coaches and teammates are all competitive guys and want to be good for a long time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Here’s the rub: Many of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates might not be around for that ultimate goal.

To open a projected $57 million in cap space this summer,* the Clippers had to stock their roster with expiring contracts.

*Based on the Clippers renouncing all their free agents and not having a first-round pick. L.A. owes the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder.

Beverley will be a free agent this summer. So will Harris and likely Avery Bradley, who got dealt to the Grizzlies shortly before the trade deadline and has just $2 million of his $12.96 million salary next season guaranteed. So will Marcin Gortat, who got waived around the trade deadline.

Yet, these players put aside personal agendas to help a franchise that’s transparently looking past them. It’s a tribute to the players. It’s a tribute to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too. This team has played hard and shown great camaraderie.

It won’t get easier even after moving Harris, L.A.’s top player this season who’s entering free agency. Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler – acquired before the trade deadline – also have expiring contracts.

Don’t assume the Clippers will fall off now. They added solid vets who could fit this culture.

The Clippers’ identity – starless, transient – remains intact. The winning could, too.

It’s not that the Clippers got snubbed. I thought none deserved to be an All-Star.

That’s the beauty of this team.

Pelicans reportedly fire GM Dell Demps

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Dell Demps has been on the hot seat for a few years now, just scraping by while making short-term moves that appeared more about keeping his job and winning games now over planning for long-term success around Anthony Davis.

This season that all seemed to catch up with him — Davis demanded a trade and the Pelicans are well out of the playoff chase in the West.

That has cost Demps his job after nine seasons, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Frustration with Davis leaving the building is more the last straw that cost Demps his job rather than the sole firable offense. Demps has been on thin ice for a while, what happened Thursday was just enough for New Orleans to pull the trigger now rather than wait until after the season. But the sense around the league is this was coming no matter what.

If Demps had traded Davis to the Lakers at the deadline he would have been fired anyway. Also, sources have told me that it wasn’t Demps’ call, that ownership and upper management (the people above Demps) did not want the Laker trade and he couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal even if he wanted to. Ownership and upper management didn’t want to feel “bullied” into a deal.

It was thought by many around the league that there would be a housecleaning in New Orleans after the season and that the new GM, whoever he or she is, would be the one making the call on the trade and the direction the team takes next. The question is, will coach Alvin Gentry be out, too?

Expect the Pelicans to move reasonably quickly on finding a replacement, whether it is internal or external. They want someone in place to have a strategy for the team heading into the draft, a strategy that includes what to do about a Davis trade.

Anthony Davis reportedly plans to play in All-Star Game after shoulder injury

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Fortunately, the injury was “nothing too bad,” just a bruised shoulder that Anthony Davis suffered Thursday night against the Thunder. He didn’t play the second half of the game, but he did fly to Charlotte afterward, home of the All-Star Game this year.

Will Davis play in Sunday’s showcase game? Probably, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Expect him to play. Minutes are limited for everyone in the All-Star Game anyway, and one request to coach Mike Malone will see Davis with even fewer minutes (10? Less than that?).

Davis injured his shoulder on the final play of the first half in the Thursday night’s game against the Thunder. Davis contested a Nerlens Noel shot and in fouling the Thunder big banged up his shoulder.

Davis didn’t play the second half, leaving the building with agent Rich Paul to get an MRI.

Kemba Walker says Michael Jordan trash-talked him during draft workout (VIDEO)

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Kemba Walker has been with the Charlotte Hornets for eight years now, and he’s an institution. He might just be the best player the Hornets have ever had, and now he’s headed to the All-Star Game as the hometown hero this weekend.

Walker has had to deal with quite a few coaches, a changing rotation of players around him, and one of the most personally-demanding owners in NBA history in Michael Jordan.

To that end, Walker told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix that the first time he met Jordan was during his draft workout. True to form, Jordan trash-talked Walker despite his apparent desire to draft him.

Via Twitter:

The legend of MJ knows no bounds.