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Three Things to Know: Denver’s offense is back sparking seven-game win streak

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Denver’s offense is back sparking seven-game win streak. In November, Denver’s offense looked lost. Blame injuries, a changing rotation, Nikola Jokic’s conditioning, or Mercury being retrograde, what mattered is a top-10 offense from last season was bottom 10 for the month. Denver only kept winning because its defense gave up less than a point per possession.

The past seven games, Denver’s offense is back — third-best in the NBA over that stretch, using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers (which filters out garbage time). Jokic is making highlight passes, guys are moving off the ball, and every shot seems to fall. The Nuggets have won their last seven, including Monday night in Phoenix, thanks to a Jamal Murray jumper with 3.2 seconds left.

Murray finished the night with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Jokic had his seventh triple-double of the season with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Denver’s win streak started with five straight games at home against teams they should beat, although there were some solid teams in there such as Portland and Oklahoma City. Then they went on the road and won a back-to-back against the LeBron-less Lakers and now Phoenix.

Maybe there is no signature win in that streak, but it has jumped Denver up to the two seed in the West, which is closer to where we thought this team would be before the season tipped-off. They have the roster and staying power to stay up in the top four through the regular season. Whether they have the talent and team to win a second-round playoff matchup will be the ultimate test, but that’s five months away.

For now, Denver has found it’s groove again and returned to being one of the most entertaining teams in the league to watch.

2) Looking for scoring off the bench, Utah trades for Jordan Clarkson. The Utah Jazz have been good this season — 18-12 after a loss in Miami Monday night — but nothing like the darkhorse threat to the Lakers and Clippers some pundits (*raises hand*) predicted before the season. Utah doesn’t scare anyone in the West right now.

There have been a few reasons for that. One of them is depth — Utah is second-worst in the league in bench scoring per game (27.1 points per game). That’s been made worse by the hamstring injury to Mike Conley, which has forced Joe Ingles into the starting lineup and robbed the bench of even more depth.

It forced Utah to make a trade, sending Dante Exum and a couple of second-round picks to Cleveland for Jordan Clarkson, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Clarkson will get Utah buckets. In his sixth NBA season, Clarkson averages 14.6 points per game, shooting 37.1 percent from three, and the Cavaliers have been +5.6 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court this season. He’s not going to be a playmaker, he’s not going to defend well, but he can get points. And that’s what the Jazz need.

The Cavaliers can take a flier on Exum, seeing if he can fit in their young-and-not-yet-impressive backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Exum is a good defender who has shown flashes on offense — when he gets rolling downhill — and should get some run with Cleveland. Plus, the Cavaliers get a couple of additional second-round picks for their rebuild. They did well in this trade.

We’ll see if this trade works out for Utah, too.

3) Tacko Fall conducted the Boston Pops. Tacko Fall is many things. Tall. A fan favorite in Boston. A guy who needs high ceilings wherever he goes. One of two NBA players from Senegal (Gorgui Dieng). A project.

Maestro.

He proved that last one on Monday night, when Fall stole the show at the Boston Pops, conducting the orchestra in “Sleigh Ride.” He threw in a twirl for good measure.

Maybe the most impressive feat on that stage was from the tailor who made the custom tux for Fall.

We’d all like some Tacko for Christmas, but on the road against the Raptors it seems a long shot he gets in the game.

Pistons buy out Markieff Morris, who’s reportedly most likely to join Lakers

Potential Lakers target and former Pistons forward Markieff Morris
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The Pistons are dismantling.

They traded Andre Drummond and bought out Reggie Jackson. Now, they’ve bought out Markieff Morris.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons and Markieff Morris have reached an agreement to buy out the veteran forward’s contract. The Pistons have requested waivers on Morris.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Morris was owed $940,113 beyond the waiver period and had a $3.36 million player option for next season. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declined the option as part of his exit or will receive some of that money.

Morris wouldn’t really move the needle for the Lakers. They already have more big forwards than they know what to do with – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. There’s no obvious fit for Los Angeles’ open roster spot, and Morris is talented. But it’s hard to see him making much of a difference there.

Heat retiring Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 in weekend-long celebration

Dwyane Wade
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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade says that whenever he would hear the national anthem play before Miami home games, he would take a moment and look to the rafters.

“I always imagined my jersey being up there,” Wade said.

He will no longer have to imagine the sight. After this weekend, it’ll be there for good.

Wade will become the fifth Heat player to get his number retired by the team, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Bosh. A three-day celebration of Wade’s time in Miami starts on Friday, a weekend highlighted by his No. 3 formally going to the rafters on Saturday night when the Heat play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade spent 16 seasons in the NBA, 14+ of those with the Heat. He was one of two players to be part of all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem, whose No. 40 will almost certainly be retired by the team one day, is the other.

It was never a question of whether Wade’s jersey was going to be retired by the Heat, only a question of when. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals and is probably going to keep most, if not all, of those records for a very long time. Consider: He scored 21,556 regular-season points with the Heat, and Alonzo Mourning is second with 9.459.

Earlier this season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers – like Wade, a Chicago native who went on to play at Marquette – said he believes Wade doesn’t get enough credit for what he did as a player, especially in the NBA Finals.

“He’s been underrated his whole life,” Rivers said. “He didn’t get recruited very highly. Took Marquette to a Final Four. He still didn’t go as high as he should have in the draft and then he took the Miami Heat to NBA championships. That’s just who he is.”

Wade was the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, was selected to 13 All-Star Games in his 16 seasons, was an All-Star MVP in 2010 and won an Olympic gold medal.

“Every time I look up to the rafters and see your (hash)3 hanging there, I’ll think of the impact you had not only on this organization, this city and this league, but on my life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wrote in an open letter to Wade that will be part of the team’s game-night giveaway program for fans on Saturday.

The weekend also includes a night of tribute speeches on Friday and a showing of a documentary about Wade on Sunday.

Report: NBA executives believe 76ers more likely to trade Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
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The 76ers have spent years building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Supporting players come and go. Embiid and Simmons remain, even amid a sometimes-awkward fit.

But chatter has increased about Philadelphia trading one of its top two stars.

So, would Embiid or Simmons be the one to go?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

There is no consensus, but league execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved — health being the determining factor in building around Simmons.

When a team is looking to trade one of two players, people frequently predict the less-valuable player will get dealt. It’s not logical. Other teams also know about Embiid’s health concerns. That’ll lower Philadelphia’s return.

I wonder whether these executives know something or are just conveying how they’d handle the situation.

The latter doesn’t mean much. The 76ers have their own view and, less than a year ago, owner Josh Harris called Embiid “our most important player. He’s clearly our future.”

Perhaps, Philadelphia’s stance has changed. Trying to line up trade trade proposals, the 76ers might have tipped their hand.

The mere possibility of that scenario makes this worth watching.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.