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Nuggets, Warriors working out kinks ahead of showdown Friday night

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The top two teams in the Western Conference meet in a game that could have homecourt ramifications in the playoffs when the Denver Nuggets tackle the Golden State Warriors on Friday night in Oakland, Calif.

The Warriors (44-20) will take the court one game ahead of the Nuggets (43-21) in the race for top seeding and homecourt advantage throughout the Western playoffs. But each has lost three of four, allowing Houston (39-25), which has won six in a row, to sneak back into the picture.

The teams split earlier meetings, both at Denver, with the contests not resembling each other.

The Nuggets won 100-98 in October by taking advantage of a 42-24 disparity in free-throw opportunities. Denver outscored Golden State 24-19 from the line to compensate for shooting just 40.7 percent overall and 18.8 percent on 3-pointers.

The Nuggets also had an edge in free-throw points in the rematch, 13-7, but the hot-shooting Warriors made that a moot point by hitting 21 3-pointers, getting eight from Stephen Curry and five apiece from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Golden State won the January game 142-111.

The clubs will meet for a fourth and final time on April 2 at Golden State.

Each team features a new look since they last saw each other, and neither addition has worked out as planned.

Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins will be playing his 18th game Friday after missing almost an entire calendar year due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. He debuted for Golden State on Jan. 18, three days after the win at Denver.

Things went well for awhile, with Golden State winning 10 of Cousins’ first 11 games. But they’ve since gone 3-5, which includes losses the two times Cousins was given a rest. He has recorded a positive plus/minus in just seven of his 17 games.

Statistically, it seems Cousins’ addition has had a negative impact on the Warriors defensively. They’ve allowed an average of 119.5 points in their last eight games, including 128 in an embarrassing 33-point home defeat Tuesday against Boston.

“It’s an adjustment trying to figure things out with how we want to play with the coverages,” Cousins told reporters after the Celtics had burned the Warriors for 51 percent shooting overall and 41.2 percent on 3-pointers Tuesday. “I’m trying to meet the needs in the coverages that they want, but it’s an adjustment period right now trying to figure it out.”

Warriors guard Klay Thompson is expected to play after missing the last two games with right knee soreness.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets have had guard Isaiah Thomas the last eight games after he was deemed fully recovered from hip surgery.

Like Golden State, Denver seemed to be inspired initially by the addition, recording wins in Thomas’ first four games. But the Nuggets have since gone 1-3.

Thomas hasn’t produced nearly the offensive firepower he packed in the past, averaging 9.0 points while shooting just 37.7 percent overall and 27.3 percent on 3-pointers.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone came to his new guy’s support earlier this week.

“A lot of people are fixating on the ‘Isaiah impact’ and how is it going,” Malone told reporters. “It’s not one player. I don’t want anybody on our team ever becoming a scapegoat for our collective problems.”

 

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.