Nuggets run Lakers off court in easy win

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When you are trying to explain why a team needs an identity, this game is a case study.

The Lakers identity is still forming, and when you combine that with tired legs on a back-to-back (at altitude in Denver) you get sloppy.

The Nuggets know exactly who they are — they are athletic, balanced and they run. Every chance they get.

That identity exploited Lakers season-long struggles with transition defense. The result was a 119-108 Denver win that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. And the Nuggets did it without Danilo Gallinari, who is out with a thigh bruise.

It’s a game that left the Lakers rooting for Boston (the Celtics beat the Jazz in overtime) because Los Angeles is going to need some help to make the playoffs.

Denver did a great job of playing to their strengths, and with that dictating the tempo and flow of the game. Pretty much whatever Denver did worked. Kenneth Faried put out more energy and effort than all the Lakers bigs combined. Andre Iguodala had 12 assists and was serving as a playmaker. JaVale McGee was a defensive presence.

It all worked and from early on — the Lakers hung in for most of the first quarter but they were playing Denver’s game. You could feel the change coming, and it arrived when the Lakers started coughing the ball up.

Lakers turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter and that fueled the Nuggets, who were off and running. And the Lakers transition defense was as flat footed as ever. The result was 67 first half Nuggets points on 56 percent shooting. Denver had 50 points in the paint in the first half — they would go on to have a ridiculous 78 for the game. The Lakers shot 60 percent and had 54 points at the break, but 12 first had them down 13.

The second half was just more of the same. Any time the Lakers would make a run Faried or McGee would get a block, Ty Lawson would lead the break and pretty soon the Nuggets were running past the Lakers.

Wilson Chandler had 23 points to lead Denver, Lawson added 22 — that is seven straight games for Lawson over 20 points. Kobe had 29 points but it didn’t matter, the Lakers fall back, two games below .500.

They are starting to figure out who they are, but when they run into teams that already have figured it out — like the top half of the Western Conference — it’s a tough go for Los Angeles.

Danny Ainge unwittingly leaks Celtics’ draft pick on call with Terry Rozier during live show (video)

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
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Terry Rozier takes solace in how much Danny Ainge believes in him.

But I didn’t appreciate how deep their bond went.

Appearing on Bleacher Report’s live draft show, Rozier was asked to predict the Celtics’ No. 27 pick. So, Rozier called Ainge to ask. Shockingly, Ainge answered – with Boston on the clock. Almost certainly not knowing the call was public and live, Ainge revealed the likely selection:

Good thing the Celtics stuck with Robert Williams. That would have been extremely awkward otherwise.

As is, it was only a little awkward. Williams said today he doesn’t like to be called Bob.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?