Three things we learned Monday: Nuggets serve Warriors slice of “humble cupcake”

Associated Press
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It’s Monday, and you have other important things to do — such as follow the exploits of the “Trumpagator” — so you may not have been focused on the NBA. We’ve got your back, here are the big takeaways from a night in the NBA.

1) Nuggets serve Warriors slice of “humble cupcake.” This is the NBA — if you don’t take an opponent seriously, you will get humbled. Everybody in the NBA can ball. As an example, let’s say you are the best team in the NBA — fresh off an emotional thrashing of a rival in Oklahoma City and wearing cupcake shirts — and you roll into Denver to take on a Nuggets team without Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay or just acquired Mason Plumlee. Easy win, right?

Wrong.

Denver could not miss from the outside Monday night, tying an NBA record with 24 made threes, on their way to thrashing the Warriors 132-110. Don’t come ready to play in the NBA, you get beat.

Denver’s star Nikola Jokic had his second career triple-double with 17 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists. Juan Hernangomez had a career-high 27 points including hitting six threes. When I say Denver couldn’t miss from the outside, look at their shot chart.

Nuggets shotchart

Let’s not be silly and say this could portend something if these two teams meet in the playoffs (as of now this would be the first-round matchup). This was a one-off. Golden State is the better team, Monday night Denver was the hotter one. The win also speaks to why Denver may be good enough to hold on to that final playoff slot, and serves as a reminder you can’t just roll the ball out there and expect to get a win in the NBA.

2) The model of consistency, Spurs win Monday secures 20th straight winning season. San Antonio has had its ugly losses this season, too (see Sunday against the Knicks), but there has been no better model of consistency in the NBA than the Spurs.

With a 110-106 win over the Pacers on Monday, the Spurs improved to 42-13, ensuring the franchise’s 20th straight winning season. The last time the Spurs had a losing season (1997) gas cost $1.22, a movie ticket was $5, Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and the Notorious B.I.G. was shot. And remember, they had seven winning seasons in a row before that one, they only fell off the map in 1996-97 due to injuries to David Robinson and others (the Spurs ended up with the No. 1 pick out of that terrible season and drafted Tim Duncan).

It’s amazing how consistent this franchise is, and while Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford deserve all the credit they get, that kind of consistency starts at the ownership level. There is not a better run organization in sports.

3) Charlotte loses again, this time to Sixers, and it’s stunning to see how far this team has fallen. When the calendar flipped to 2017, the Charlotte Hornets were 19-15, with a pedestrian offense carried by Kemba Walker and a top 10 NBA defense.

Since then the Hornets have gone 5-16, with a pedestrian defense overall and an offense that is bottom 10 – it Kemba Walker against the world.

Nicolas Batum tried to motivate the team by guaranteeing a win Monday night against the Sixers. It worked to motivate a team — Philadephia. The Sixers — playing without Joel Embiid (injury) or Jahlil Okafor (holding him out due to serious trade talks) — outworked the Hornets on the glass, and the Sixers won 105-99.

It must be something in the water in Charlotte, first the Panthers under perform and now the Hornets. Charlotte has a decent roster, a good coach, we thought the loss of Jeremy Lin and the depth might have this team take a small step back from last season, but not just drop off a cliff. This team simply should not be as bad as it has been the past couple months, even with the injury to Cody Zeller. Yet here we are. The Hornets are not physical enough, and while other teams — like the Sixers — are coming together the Hornets are not improving and seem to be pulling apart. It’s hard to picture this team making the playoffs at this point (they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed, but the way the Hornets are playing does not portend a turnaround).

GM Rich Cho, owner Michael Jordan, and coach Steve Clifford need to have a real tough postmortem after this season and figure out how to get this roster moving forward. There is too much talent in Charlotte for this team to be this bad.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo suspended one game for headbutting Blake Griffin

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics
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The Celtics thought it was funny — Jaylen Brown jokingly offered Blake Griffin his mask after the Bucks’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo headbutted the Celtic forward.

The NBA didn’t find it as amusing and suspended Antetokounmpo for one game for the incident.

Griffin was given a Flagrant 1 foul at the time, but mostly the Celtics had a good laugh.

It’s easier to laugh when you are blowing out your opponent, and the Celtics made a statement with a 41-point win over the Bucks.

The Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Bucks for the No.1 seed in the East (and NBA), and they are two games back in the loss column. While Boston has the tiebreaker, it will need some help from Milwaukee to catch them. The Bucks play the 76ers in a key game on Sunday, but will do so without Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

 

It’s official: Popovich, Wade headline international class (Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker) into Hall of Fame

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics
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In an incredibly deep Hall of Fame class, the man who garners the most respect — legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — is the man who feels least like he belongs in these hallowed halls.

“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich told the Associated Press, and it’s not a gimmick. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”

Popovich is a Hall of Fame guy. While it has been expected for a while, it became official on Saturday with an announcement in Houston during the NCAA Final Four.

Popovich is part of one of the great Hall of Fame classes ever: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Becky Hammon are the headliners.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley told the Associated Press. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back – because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”

Let’s break down the cases for the biggest, NBA tied-names:

• Gregg Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and 18 consecutive seasons of 50+ wins. “Pop” also coached USA Basketball to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and was active. Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, a man who adapted his system to the personnel he had — how the Tim Duncan/David Robinson Spurs won was very different than the 2014 team led by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (and still Duncan).

• Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards the game has ever seen. He helped the Miami Heat to three NBA titles and was the 2006 Finals MVP, and along the way racked up eight All-NBA teams and 13 trips to the All-Star game. He is the greatest Heat player ever and is an easy Hall of Fame choice.

• Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever, an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. His resume includes being a 12-time All-NBA player and 14-time All-Star, plus playing 21 seasons all for the same franchise.

• Tony Parker is a four-time NBA champion for Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, and Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007. His NBA resume includes four All-NBA nods and six All-Star trips, but his international resume secured his place in the Hall of Fame, for example he was the MVP of EuroBasket 2013, which France won.

• Pau Gasol won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (as Kobe Bryant’s co-star), is a four-time All-NBA player and six-time All-Star, plus he was the Rookie of the Year in 2002. Like Parker, it is Gasol’s international resume that cements his spot in the Hall, he led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and won three Olympic medals (two silver, one bronze).

• Becky Hammon, who most NBA fans know as the first women’s assistant coach in the NBA and current coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but before that she was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

Also entering the Hall of Fame this year:

• Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship, and created The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Gene Bess, All-time winningest college coach (1,300), 2-time NJCAA Coach of the Year.
• David Hixon, who racked up 826 wins and was a two-time D3 national champion and two-time D3 Coach of the Year.
• Gene Keady, best known for coaching 25 years at Purdue, was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
• Gary Blair, who coached in the women’s game for 37 years, amassing 852 wins, including winning the 2011 National Championship with Texas A&M.
• The 1976 Women’s USA Olympic Basketball Team – Silver medalists in inaugural appearance for Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.

Watch Jalen Brunson score 48, Knicks top Cavs in possible playoff preview

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CLEVELAND (AP) — With All-Star Julius Randle back in New York, the Knicks needed someone to step up.

Jalen Brunson did that, and more.

New York’s point guard scored a career-high 48 points and the Knicks moved closer to a playoff berth while waiting for Randle to get healthy, outrunning the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116 on Friday night.

“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”

Brunson credited his Knicks’ teammates and coaches for his big night, which included seven 3-pointers and nine assists. He finished 18 of 32 from the floor.

“They had confidence in me and the ball just went through the hole,” said Brunson, who scored 44 in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 9. “I just kept shooting with confidence and that’s just how it went.”

The Knicks reduced their magic number to one in their first game without Randle, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday and will miss the rest of the regular season. New York hopes he’ll be back for the postseason and a potential first-round matchup against the Cavs.

New York won the season series 3-1 and denied Cleveland a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the first round.

“This loss hurts,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led Cleveland with 42 points. “We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes. Obviously, we control our destiny and we’ll probably see these guys in two weeks.

“There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs.”

Leading by three, the Knicks outscored the Cavs 14-2 to open the fourth and get some breathing room in a game played at a frenetic pace. The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter and 151 in the first half.

The Cavs got within 123-116 before Brunson put the Cavs away with a layup following a timeout and then a 3-pointer. He missed a floater in the final seconds that would have given him 50 points.

Did he want 50?

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”

Brunson, who averages 23.6 points, scored 33 in a wild first half without much defense.

The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter, tying the third most in the first 12 minutes of a game in NBA history. The record of 91 is shared by Utah and Denver (1982), and Miami and Washington (2021).

Also, Cleveland’s 47 points in the first quarter were the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.

The Cavs were without two of their top defenders, center Jarrett Allen (groin) and Isaac Okoro (knee).

The Knicks had a moment of drama.

During a timeout in the third quarter, New York starters RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin got into a shouting match and had to be separated.

Thibodeau downplayed the conflict.

“The cameras are everywhere and it probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said. “It was the heat of the moment. Sometimes, there is a difference of opinion, but those guys are fine with each other. These things happen.”

Later, in the locker, Toppin had his arm around a smiling Barrett.

“This is my brother,” Toppin said. “We’re good.”