Streaky Nuggets run past sleepy Thunder for easy win

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Remember just a week or so ago when the Denver Nuggets had lost seven in a row and looked like a team destined to fall far out of the playoff picture in the West?

Now the Nuggets have turned it around with four straight wins, and while they are not in a playoff spot yet they are back in the picture.

The latest of those wins came over a sleepy, uninspired Thunder team on Thursday night, 101-88. It wasn’t that Denver was particularly brilliant, their offensive rating on the night was a tic below their season average — although Randy Foye was hot on his way to 24 points and Denver knocked down 14-of-31 three point attempts.

It’s just that Denver was solid and that was much better than whatever the Thunder were doing out there. (Insert your own “marijuana is legal in Colorado” joke here… or just find the copies of Kevin Durant’s deleted tweets from after the game Thursday night.)

Durant had 30 points on 18 shots, but without Russell Westbrook that is not going to get it done. That’s not meant as a dig at Durant, it’s just a night when the Thunder bench shot 28.6 percent, led by Jeremy Lamb going 1-of-12, Durant is going to have to have a monster scoring night to keep the Thunder in it. And he didn’t. Durant was good but just 1-of-7 from three.

By comparison the Nuggets looked as composed, like the team that has tripped up so many visitors to altitude over the years. Denver had a 9 point lead at the half then opened the third quarter on a 10-2 run, and that was pretty much your ballgame.

Ty Lawson was in great form, using his quickness to get 16 points for himself and create open looks for others. Randy Foye was 6-of-9 from three, which really opened up the entire Nuggets offense, and je finished the night with a team-high 24 points. Evan Fournier had 19 points and the kind of game that demands more minutes soon.

This isn’t a game you read anything into — the Thunder miss Westbrook terribly but we knew that already, and Denver is a team that gets hot and is pretty much right now. They just need to stay hot if they want to make the playoffs. The Nuggets will take the win just the same.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: ‘I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go’

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.