51Q: Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:

Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

The Western Conference has a couple of young teams that should leap into the playoffs this season and could be far more dangerous a few years down the road: The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. They are teams fans need to start watching now.

The Denver Nuggets want to get in that conversation.

They have a quality young core: big men Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, a two guard in Gary Harris, a young point guard with promise in Emmanuel Mudiay, plus in the latest draft they added Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez. All of those players are 22 or younger, and 10 players on the roster total are age 25 or younger. Coach Mike Malone is an excellent choice for the franchise to develop that core while building a professional culture  (something Denver lacked for a few years and Malone brought back last season).

There is reason for hope in Denver.

However, development takes time, and the Nuggets have a few of players who are past the development stage and should be at their peaks now: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried in particular. There are other stabilizing veterans on the roster: Jameer Nelson, Mike Miller, and Darrell Arthur, for example.

Will the Nuggets young core come of age in time to meld with those veterans and form a team that is a threat not only to make the playoffs but do some damage?

Or should Denver’s front office be shopping those veterans and going all-in with the youth movement?

Based on their actions, Denver’s management already has an answer — they have looked for trades. However, they aren’t going to just give those veterans away, either.

Gallinari and Faried have been named in more trade rumors than there are joints at a Cypress Hill concert. But a combination of injuries and, in the case of Faried in particular, uninspired play had suitors coming in with lowball offers that Denver was never going to accept. The economics of a deal for these two may be changing, however. Gallinari’s $15 million this season is a much smaller hit against the new cap for a team looking for a stretch four, and he has a player option for next season ($16.1 million) that he may well not pick up as he looks for some long-term security (if he has a strong season he likely opts out). Faried is owed $38.6 million over three seasons, a figure that will not be easy for Denver to move but is far less daunting for potential trade partners under the new cap numbers.

Don’t expect anything rash from Denver.

With Malone at the helm, there is a sense that Denver is turning the corner, that a foundation is in place now that could turn this into a very good team in a few years. This season that good foundation may not result in many more wins than the 33 they had a season ago (their schedule to start the season is brutal with eight of their first 10 games against playoff teams from last season and most of those games on the road), but the team should be taking steps forward.

There still is work to do with this roster. They have a strong young core, however the Nuggets lack a potential superstar in that group, that’s something they may need to get via trade or free agency (the only name they went hard at this summer was Dwyane Wade, who used to fit that bill but would have given them some legitimacy now). However, if Denver can win games and show established players they have a strong young core they have a pitch to make — come here and win now by putting us over the top. That can sell in an NBA where the big market teams do not have quite the same drawing power advantage they did a couple of decades ago.

Part of the work to do is moving the veterans on the roster that have trade value but are not part of the long-term future. Get more players that fit with the timeline of the young core.

Denver fans should be hopeful. More of them should come out to Nuggets games than they have the past few years — it’s time to get on board this bandwagon. But they also are going to need a little more patience. Which sucks.

And they are going to have to trust management to make the right moves this time around.

Moves that should start this season and into next summer on the trade market.

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

Technically Turner can still be traded at the Feb. 9 deadline, but the Pacers have no intention of doing so (as this signing signals). There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).