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.”

 

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

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“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

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The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

It increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out (or would have to be willing to take a paycut to stay), he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will investigate who leaked the video and then fire that person.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

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Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.

 

Joel Embiid has Olympic-sized decision to make: France or USA

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HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Joel Embiid has two choices: the red, white and blue of the U.S., or the blue, white and red of France.

An Olympic medal might hinge on his decision.

France is still hopeful that Embiid – the reigning NBA scoring champion – will choose to wear its colors for the 2024 Paris Olympics even though he recently became an American citizen, national team coach Vincent Collet said Thursday.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star, may choose to play internationally for the U.S. or France, but not both. It was widely presumed that he would play for France at the Paris Games and possibly even next year’s Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, until Embiid revealed last week that he now has American citizenship as well.

“Now he has both nationalities, and he has to choose one basketball nationality, which is not the same,” Collet told The Associated Press. “So, that is a choice. Nobody can do anything to change it.”

Embiid told AP last week that it’s too early to think about a decision. By rule, he will eventually have to declare a choice to FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, if he decides that he wants to play at the Olympics or World Cup.

France is the reigning Olympic silver medalist and is planning to have a team featuring Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum – and, quite likely, top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama – at the Paris Games. France’s plan is to essentially take what will be its Olympic roster to the World Cup next year.

Without Embiid, that French core has been extremely formidable. On top of the 2021 silver in Tokyo, France won bronze at the 2019 World Cup and silver again at this year’s European championships.

With Embiid, that group would figure to be even better. Collet said Boris Diaw, the general manager of the French national team, has been in contact with Embiid to discuss options.

“I know he met some of our players to discuss,” Collet said. “I think he should play with us. But we will see. We will respect his decision whatever it is.”

Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has a Brazilian girlfriend – their son is American – went to high school in Florida and played college basketball at Kansas.

The five-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has spent his entire pro career with Philadelphia, averaging 26.0 points in his first six seasons and a career-best 30.6 points on his way to the scoring crown last season.