Nuggets need to get back to basics to beat the Warriors in crucial game 3

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Even though the series is tied at one game a piece, the Nuggets have been thoroughly outplayed by the Warriors in the first two games. Golden State has had the better game plan and has made the better adjustments. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have been very good in some areas but not able to play their normal breakneck style for sustained stretches.

This, of course, is a problem. If the Warriors are controlling the tempo, dictating the match ups, and playing their own game more than the Nuggets get to play theirs, this series will turn out different than many expected — expectations that shifted even further when David Lee was injured.

If the Nuggets are to regain the momentum lost during a split on their home court, they need to get back to playing their game; get back to dictating the terms of engagement. That means getting out in the open court and scoring baskets in the paint.

The Warriors have done a good job of stopping the Nuggets’ open court attack by abandoning offensive rebounding chances in favor of getting at least three players back in transition defense. Also, it’s very hard to run for easy baskets when you’re taking the ball out of the bottom of the net as often as the Nuggets have this series.

Denver, then, needs a counter and needs one quickly. Enter Ty Lawson. The speedy point guard has had a very good series so far, shooting the ball relatively well and being aggressive in stretches. However, if the Nuggets want to change the pace and feel of this game, it must start with Lawson getting aggressive every time he touches the ball, looking to push in the open court and not settling to back the ball out and run a half court set. The Warriors are a good defensive team and are taking away the Nuggets’ deep passes up the sideline. So, Lawson must change the attack and rather than throw the ball up the court he must advance it with the dribble.

Second, the Nuggets must get back to being the team with the better frontline. In the first two games, Andrew Bogut has been the series’ best big man and has controlled the defensive paint. In game two, the Warriors’ best lineup was Bogut and four wings (Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes) and the Nuggets tried to counter that with an equally small lineup only without a traditional center. That approach failed as Kenneth Faried clearly wasn’t physically 100%.

Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee need to have more of an impact in game 3, doing a better job defensively in the pick and roll, but especially being more active around their own offensive paint. The Nuggets are at their best not only when they attack the rim in the open court and off dribble drives in the half court, but when their big men effectively crash the offensive glass. Yes, the Nuggets have to balance their pursuit of their own misses with getting back on defense, but they also need to remember why they’ve been so successful this season and that involves punishing teams with second chance points.

Of course, none of this will be easy. The Warriors have the momentum now. And, while Denver has been so great at home they’ve been a much worse team on the road. And few arenas in the league are as wild and rambunctious as Oracle Arena during a playoff game. The crowd will be into the game and they will spur on the home team.

But the Warriors have their own questions to answer and can’t just rely on the crowd to push them to a win. Curry is coming off a sprained ankle in game 2 and is a game-time decision for this game (though I bet he plays). Their small lineup was effective in the last game but how much of that success was based off a shooting performance that isn’t likely to be duplicated? At some point, missing David Lee has to matter, right?

How the Warriors answer these questions and whether or not the Nuggets can find their lost rhythm will determine the winner.

After Zion Williamson injury, Donovan Mitchell notes risk without reward

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Hype for rival North Carolina visiting Duke on Wednesday night was near an all-time high — secondary ticket prices were pushing Super Bowl prices. It was on national television. A lot of people were making money off of this, starting with the two universities.

Then Duke star and lock No. 1 pick Zion Williamson had to leave the game with a knee injury (later described as a knee sprain).

Utah Jazz wing Donovan Mitchell wanted to remind everyone Williamson was not among the people making money.

Luka Doncic then reminded everyone there is another path.

The NCAA makes its money off the archaic notion of amateurism, that myth fuels the profits major universities rake in off their revenue sports. Keeping that myth alive creates the underground market where players are bribed with shoe money or by boosters (or coaches) to come play at specific universities. It’s that myth that needs to die for the system to change. The issue of paying players is not a simple one — college softball players spend just as much time perfecting their sport and face the same restrictions, shouldn’t they be compensated as well? That said, there’s enough money for everyone if done right. A first step might be to allow Williamson and other stars to be able to profit from their name and likeness while in college without losing their eligibility.

Or, more basketball players may just start choosing Europe or other paths.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.