Three Stars of the Night: The Nuggets are still very odd

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If you needed further confirmation that the Denver Nuggets are in fact very strange, tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder provided some material.

Andre Iguodala, the All-Star swingman, the Gold Medalist, the highest paid player on the Nuggets, didn’t play in the fourth quarter and barely played in overtime.

JaVale McGee…did JaVale McGee things. He tried playing point-center on one possession and headed up a fast break that eventually, predictably, ended up in a turnover. A few possessions later, he ducked out of the way of a pass headed right for him.

Andre Miller, who shoots a flinging set shot (and 19 percent from 3), acted as the team’s crunch time shooting guard.

Put it all together, throw in some big buckets by one of our stars, and what do you get? A win over one of the best teams in the league. I don’t understand the Nuggets, and I’m not going to try to. Let’s get to the Three Stars from Sunday’s action:

Third Star: Russell Westbrook – (36 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocked mascot shots)

Remember all the stories about how Michael Jordan used to look for perceived slights so he could have the motivation to go tear an opponent up? Russell Westbrook is like that, except he doesn’t have to manufacture the criticism. Seeing Westbrook sort of embrace the fact that he’ll never be the “true point guard” fans want has become one of my favorite things about this season. For all intents and purposes, he’s the NBA’s new super villain. He’s demonstrative, he robs fans of free queso, and you can tell he genuinely enjoys getting under everyone’s skin. Westbrook was in full-blown bad guy mode on Sunday against the Nuggets, driving to the rim with reckless abandon and throwing his body in defenders to get to the free throw line a whopping 17 times. Westbrook’s a momentum player, both in the sense that’s he unstoppable when he gets to full speed, and that once he gets a few shots to go down, he usually gets on a roll. The Nuggets survived a comeback spurred by Westbrook that included a huge deep 3-pointer, but if Westbrook is truly the villain he portrays, he won’t forget this game the next time these two teams meet up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6YXVx9eFEk%5D

Second Star: Jose Calderon – (22 points and 9 assists in 30 minutes)

Was the Lakers defense deplorable? Of course. But a lot of credit also goes to Calderon, who really saw the floor brilliantly and probed in the pick-and-roll for the Raptors all night. Toronto shot a ridiculous 54 percent from the field against the Lakers, and Calderon’s 22 points magnified the big weaknesses of the Lakers’ defense. The Raptors were great in transition, but even when the game slowed down, Calderon moved the ball to the open man and always made the correct swing pass. If Calderon really is available come trade deadline time, some contender would be very lucky to have his decision making and shooting abilities added to their team.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eUena1A_X4%5D

First Star: Corey Brewer – (26 points, 6 rebounds, 15 points in the 4th quarter)

George Karl went with his gut, and Corey Brewer rewarded him in a serious way. When he wasn’t harassing Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook defensively, Brewer was spotting up in the corner and letting ’em rip from deep. For a team that has both struggled to shoot from the perimeter (29th in 3-point percentage) and put away games in clutch situations, every one of Brewer’s 15 points were like manna from heaven (the non-Darko Milicic variety) for Karl and the Nuggets down the stretch. Although Oklahoma City eventually caught them in regulation, Brewer’s hot shooting and aggressive nature kept Iguodala on the bench in overtime, which was probably a good thing on a night where he clearly didn’t have it. That’s the luxury Karl has with this deep roster, and although questions about their title chances remain, players like Brewer make the Nuggets a very tough out during the regular season.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6YXVx9eFEk%5D

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.

Klay Thompson back on practice court with Warriors Friday

Klay Thompson cleared
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The last time Klay Thompson was on an NBA court, it was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when an ACL tear both ended those playoffs for him and caused him to miss all of this season.

Friday, Thompson was back on the court.

The three-time champion and five-time All-Star cleared quarantine and was in the “Dubble” where the Warriors are conducting a two-week minicamp at their facility to help prepare for next season (whenever that starts).

It’s a good sign. When next season starts, the Warriors hope he, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green are all healthy and running at 100%.

Another good sign for the Warriors, Kevon Looney has been working out and reportedly looking good at the Warriors minicamp (take all the “he looks great” reports with a grain of salt, but the fact he is on the court is a good sign).

Looney played through injuries in those 2019 Finals, and has missed parts of four of his five NBA seasons due to injuries — he played just 20 games last season and had surgery on his core in May. It led to whispers around the league he may never again find his form as a quality role player. If Looney can stay healthy — coach Steve Kerr said he went “full bore” at the team’s first practice — he becomes a solid, athletic interior presence the Warriors need to balance their elite perimeter players.

 

Jamal Murray lived in “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years

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A once-rich-now-suddenly-poor family adjusting to living cramped together in a roadside motel is the premise behind “Schitt’s Creek” — the Canadian comedy that just annoyingly dominated the Emmy comedy categories. (It’s not that “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t deserving, I enjoy the show, it’s just annoying when any single show/movie dominates an awards broadcast.)

Jamal Murray watches that show and sees his former home.

Murray, Denver’s breakout superstar and a Canadian, lived in the “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years, reports Chris Halliday of the Orangeville Banner, via the Toronto Star (hat tip to Hoopshype).

The real-life motel is owned by Jesse Tipping, who also is the president of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy and Orangeville Prep.

Tipping purchased the motel in 2011 to house recruits for what’s become the most successful prep school basketball program in Canada. Former Orangeville Prep alum and budding NBA superstar Jamal Murray, of the Denver Nuggets, lived there for two years — so did Miami Heat training camp invitee Kyle Alexander.

It’s also been a filming location for a number of things, including “The Umbrella Academy” and “A History of Violence.” “Schitt’s Creek” has used the place for about a month every year for the past six years.

The popular comedy, which just ended its run, features veteran comedic actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, plus Eugene’s son Dan Levy, plus many more. “Schitt’s Creek” was first produced by the CBC for Canadian television, came to America on POP TV, but exploded when it got to Netflix and people discovered it.

Jamal Murray went from the “Schitt’s Creek” to Kentucky for a year, before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets as their point guard to pair with Nikola Jokic. Murray has had a breakout playoffs, leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. He’s made ridiculous plays on the court and powerful statements off it about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rumor: 76ers could hire Mike D’Antoni to lure James Harden

Mike D'Antoni and James Harden at Rockets-76ers game
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Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni seemingly has a good relationship with James Harden.

The 76ers are reportedly interested in hiring D’Antoni.

Coincidence?

John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

If this is the 76ers’ plan, it’s foolish. Stars don’t pick teams to play for a specific coach.

Stars want, among the things in Philadelphia’s control, winning environments. Pick the coach who can help build and maintain that.

Maybe that’s D’Antoni. He had plenty of success with the Rockets and Suns. But choose him for the right reasons – not some Harden pipe dream.

Harden can become a free agent in 2022, but he’d have to decline a $47,366,760 player option for his age-33 season. Otherwise, he’s headed toward 2023 unrestricted free agency. The 76ers would have a tough time clearing max cap space in either offseason.

A trade is possible. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are intriguing chips if Philadelphia becomes willing to trade one. Harden has the cachet to have some say in a trade destination. But Houston has been committed to winning around Harden. With an older team built around Harden, the Rockets couldn’t simply pivot into a new direction with Simmons or Embiid.

In fairness to the 76ers, this is the type of rumor that spreads baselessly. People see D’Antoni’s awkward fit with Philadelphia’s roster and make wild guesses about the team’s motivation. That doesn’t necessarily match the 76ers’ internal reasoning.