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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.

J.R. Smith caught on video beating up man who allegedly vandalized his truck

J.R. Smith
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Sunday was a day of mostly peaceful protests in Los Angeles in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week. However, some bad actors used the protests as camouflage to loot and vandalize businesses and property near the protests.

One of those people allegedly broke the window of former NBA player J.R. Smith’s truck — and Smith ran him down and beat him up for it. Video of the beating emerged first on TMZ. (Warning, NSFW language.)

Smith quickly posted a video on his Instagram story trying to get out in front of this, saying the guy broke his truck window in a residential street — and Smith was having none of it.

“I just want you all to know right now, before you all see this s*** somewhere else. One of these little motherf****** white boys didn’t know where he was going and broke my f****** window in my truck. Broke my s***. This was a residential area. No stores over here. None of that s***. Broke my window, I chased him down and whooped his ass.

“So when the footage comes out and you all see it, I chased him down and whooped his ass. He broke my window. This ain’t no hate crime. I ain’t got no problem with nobody and nobody got no problem with me. There’s a problem with the motherf****** system, that’s it. The motherf***** broke my window and I whooped his ass. He didn’t know who window he broke and he got his ass whooped.”

It’s unknown at this time if any other legal action will come out of this, the police and prosecutors have a lot on their plates right now.

Smith was out of the NBA this season, despite getting a couple of workouts with teams.

George Floyd’s death brings back painful memories for Rockets’ Thabo Sefolosha

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Thabo Sefolosha knows what it’s like to be a black man, on the ground, being beaten by police officers.

Such was the scenario when George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week.

And five years ago, Sefolosha found himself in a similarly frightening place.

“I was just horrified by what I saw,” Sefolosha said. “That could have been me.”

Time has not healed all wounds for Sefolosha, the NBA veteran who said he was attacked by a group of New York Police Department officers in April 2015 while they were arresting him outside a nightclub in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. The leg that was broken in the fracas is fine now. The emotional pain roared back last week when he saw video of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air in the final moments of his life as a white police officer — subsequently charged with murder — pressed a knee on his neck.

Sefolosha has seen the video. He hasn’t watched much news since. His experience with police in New York has left him with a deep distrust of law enforcement, the pangs of angst flooding back even when he walks into NBA arenas and sees uniformed officers. And the latest example of police brutality left him even more upset.

“People talk about a few rotten apples,” Sefolosha said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But you know, in my experience and from what we’re seeing, I think it’s deeper than that as a culture that’s deeply rooted in it, to be honest. That’s just my honest opinion. I think it’s really … part of a culture where it’s deeper than just a few bad apples.”

The four officers who were involved in the incident where Floyd died were fired; the one who knelt on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Massive protests have broken out in several cities in recent days, the country torn again over a black man dying at the hands of police.

Sefolosha — a black man of Swiss descent who plays for the Houston Rockets — considered but decided against joining protests in Atlanta, where he is waiting for the resumption of the NBA season that was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m mad, for sure,” Sefolosha said. “That’s for sure. I mean, it’s 2020. Nobody should have to go through this in this time, especially after black people have given up so much for America. Black people have given up so much and done so much for this country. It’s hurtful to see it this way.”

Sefolosha’s perspective changed forever on April 8, 2015. Chris Copeland, an NBA player at the time, was among three people stabbed outside the club where Sefolosha was that night; police arrived and ordered everyone to leave the area. Sefolosha says he complied but began getting harassed by officers anyway.

Before long, he was on the ground.

Sefolosha’s leg was broken and some ligaments were torn in the fracas, and he was arrested on several charges that a jury needed about 45 minutes to determine were unfounded. He wound up suing for $50 million, alleging his civil rights were violated, settled for $4 million and gave much of that money to a public defenders’ organization working in marginalized communities.

“It changed me a lot, toward the way I see law enforcement in this country,” Sefolosha said. “And also toward the way I see the whole justice system. I went to court and I had to do all of this to prove my innocence. It really got me deep into the system and I’m really skeptical of the whole system.”

NBA players have used their platforms often in recent years to protest racial inequality. Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after police used a stun gun on him and arrested him over a parking incident in 2018. On Saturday, Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics were among those taking part in Atlanta protests.

“You see what happened in Minnesota where three human beings with a badge are watching another human being killing somebody,” said Sefolosha, who has played in the NBA since 2006 and intends to return to Switzerland when he retires. “And instead of saying, ‘OK, this is my duty as a human being,’ the duty was more toward not interfering with the other officer and saying, ‘We are clan, we stick together no matter what.’ It should be the other way around.”

The NBA is closing in on finalizing a plan to resume the season in July at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida. Sefolosha and the Rockets figure to be contenders for a championship when play resumes.

For obvious reasons, Sefolosha’s mind isn’t there yet.

“I’ll be happy to be with my teammates and reunited with basketball in general,” Sefolosha said. “But you know, we’re human beings, and the fight has been going on for too long and the same protests have been going on for too long. I think it’s definitely time for change and that should be a priority for all of us.”

Michael Jordan releases statement: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained, and plain angry”

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Michael Jordan has been famously apolitical through his playing career and after, rarely commenting on social issues. While the “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment has always stuck to him, as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina.

However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer, and the eruptions of protests nationwide, Jordan felt compelled to speak and released this statement.

Jordan’s voice is a powerful one and carries a lot of weight, as do his actions.

How he uses that voice, and the actions he takes going forward, will be watched and can hold a lot of sway.

 

On this date in NBA history: J.R. Smith forgot the score

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There comes a point in almost every NBA playoff series when one team knows it’s beat. That team threw its best punch and the other team took it and won anyway. While no NBA team would never go into the postgame press conference and say “we’re beat,” it shows up in their tone and body language.

In the 2018 NBA Finals, that moment came after Game 1.

Two years ago today, May 31, the Cavaliers went to Golden State and were on the verge of stealing Game 1 on the road. LeBron James had targeted Stephen Curry on switches to keep the Cavaliers ahead, LeBron thought he drew a charge on Kevin Durant but it was overturned on review and called a block, and a back-and-forth end of the game saw the Warriors go up one when Curry drew and and-1 foul on Kevin Love with 23.5 seconds left.

Of course, the Cavs put the ball in LeBron’s hands out top, the Cavaliers got the switch and had Curry trying to guard LeBron, when LeBron threw a bullet pass to a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson hooked Hill, and Hill went to the ground. The foul was called and Hill went to the free-throw line.  He hit the first and tied the game 107-107.

Then came the moment.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, although Smith was selling at the time he was trying to bring the ball out to get a better shot. The Warriors players thought he was trying to get the ball to LeBron, maybe.

Game 1 went to overtime, where the Warriors dominated (17-7) and got the win. After the game, you could feel it around the Cavaliers — this was their chance and they missed it. The series ended in a Golden State sweep.

It’s a legendary moment of the NBA Finals, even if it’s one Smith and Cavaliers fans would like to forget.