Associated Press

No ‘panic’ for Nuggets before Game 2 vs. Spurs

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Minutes after missing an open shot that could have changed the outcome of his first career playoff game, Jamal Murray climbed the stairs from the Denver Nuggets locker room and started shooting on the practice court.

For about an hour, the young point guard tried to erase the 8-for-23 shooting night in a 101-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series.

“I just didn’t go into my shot like I normally do,” Murray said Monday about his miss. “I rushed it a little bit, so next game I’ll calm my shot down a little bit more and be more relaxed. Not be too excited, not be too anxious.”

Murray and the Nuggets get their chance Tuesday night at home in Game 2. It’s as close to a must-win game for Denver as it can be; a loss drops the No. 2 seed in an 0-2 hole heading back to San Antonio for two games.

“I don’t think we’re in panic mode. We don’t feel like we have to make a whole lot of adjustments,” Nuggets guard Will Barton said. “We have to make a few adjustments and we have to make shots.”

The veteran Spurs held Denver to 42 percent shooting and led for most of the game. The Nuggets were down five with 2:24 left and had a chance to take the lead, but Murray misfired on an 18-footer with 9.4 seconds left.

After two days of analyzing and breaking down the film, both teams are ready for Game 2.

“They’re going to be more aggressive, defensively, offensively, and we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got to be better, we’ve got expect it. It’s going to be even more of a dogfight this time around.”

Denver didn’t score a point in transition and San Antonio held center Nikola Jokic to 10 points by double-teaming the All-Star center when he was in the low post. Jokic did have 14 rebounds and 14 assists, but he could have had nearly 20 assists if his teammates hit open shots.

“I thought Denver had a lot of great shots that they missed,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Our defense could have been better and we were fortunate they missed some of those shots.”

The Nuggets did miss shots, but the Spurs’ top scorers weren’t doing much better.

DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 and 15 points, respectively, and missed 24 of their 36 shot attempts. Bryn Forbes (15 points), Derrick White (16 points) and Rudy Gay (14 points) picked up the slack and shot a combined 19 of 28.

“We lost that game because, yes, we couldn’t make shots but you have to give a ton of credit to Forbes, White and Rudy Gay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The Nuggets vowed to play better, and the Spurs, a playoff-tested team, are ready for that. They’re also not satisfied going home with a split.

“It’s not about one game, it’s about the series,” Aldridge said. “We didn’t play great and we got the win.”

 

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.