Brian Shaw blames Nuggets’ slow starts on pizzas and nachos

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The Denver Nuggets have been outscored in every first quarter they’ve played this month.

They’ve scored a little and fallen behind (22-18 to the Wizards on Monday night), scored a lot and still fallen behind (29-27 to the Nets on Dec. 3) and have just been plain routed (39-15 by the Celtics on Friday).

Yet, Denver has still gone 4-2 in December to bolster an impressive 13-8 overall record. Under first-year coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets are definitely exceeding expectations, and there are many more reasons to be satisfied than not.

But Shaw is leaving nothing to chance.

Tom Schad for The Denver Post (hat tip: Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie):

Shaw has searched for answers to their offensive woes in the first quarters of games. Last week, he walked through the locker room, saw players eating pizza and nachos and believed the poor diet to be the cause. So he picked up all the junk food and threw it in the trash.

The Nuggets had fresh salads with chicken breast and cold cut sandwiches before Monday’s game. The sluggish result was the same.

“We’ll keep searching and seeking until we find (it),” Shaw said. “We just talk about the starters needing to start the game for us. Our bench has been tremendous really this whole season. They’ve bailed us out of a lot of situations.”

First of all, I applaud Shaw’s  attention to detail. That’s the mark of a good coach.

Many coaches get so drawn into Xs and Os, they don’t see the forest for the trees. Anyone who’s ever eaten fast food knows how lethargic it can make you feel, and that very well could be a significant factor for Denver. Again, Shaw deserves credit for considering all angles.

But I’m not convinced the Nuggets even have a first-quarter problem, let alone one based on pregame meals.

Denver’s offensive rating is actually better in the first quarter than overall, though it’s defense slips to a greater degree than the offense improves. The Nuggets’ first-quarter net rating (–0.6) is lower than its overall net rating (3.4), but 27 of 30 teams have at least one quarter where their net rating slips more than four points, including seven for which it happens in the first quarter.

There’s just a natural variance that occurs, and overall, the Nuggets’ first quarters seem to fit within it.

Really, Denver’s worst quarter is its second. Here’s the team’s offensive rating (gold) and defensive rating (blue) by quarter with the dotted line representing the team team’s overall mark in each category. The upper and lower bounds of the chart are set equal to the NBA’s best (Trail Blazers) and worst (Bucks) overall offensive rating.

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Of course, the stats don’t tell everything. Shaw is better positioned to recognize when Denver’s early errors could be attributed to the side effects of eating unhealthily. And he’s especially well-suited to inform his players how to eat better – or at least refer them to someone who will.

But if his players push back and want their junk food, I don’t think Shaw can say with certainty the Nuggets’ first quarters are due to anything other than random variance. If they accept his change to the menu, then there’s certainly no harm done.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.

Report: ‘At the direction of his attorney,’ 76ers G Markelle Fultz to stop playing and practicing, see specialist

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Markelle Fultz said his shooting problems were due to injury, and just a couple weeks ago, he insisted he was generally healthy.

But something is clearly amiss.

The 76ers guard finally appears to be acknowledging it.

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

Should we read into Brothers – usually identified as Fultz’s agent – being referred to as Fultz’s attorney? That sounds ominous.

There has been back-and-forth between Fultz’s and the 76ers about who deserves blame for his struggles.

J.R. Smith: Cavaliers are tanking

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J.R. Smith said he wants the Cavaliers to trade him.

But that was right after they told Smith he’d be shut down. He has been playing regularly lately.

Still, Smith isn’t pleased with Cleveland.

J.R. Smith, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”

And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.

“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.

If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.

But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.

Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.