Comeback kids: Jamal Murray drops 40, Nuggets beat Clippers to win Game 7

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Since before the season tipped-off, the Los Angeles Clippers looked like the champions… on paper.

They had the elite talent, the Sixth Man of the Year depth, the coaching, the strong perimeter defenders, and a two-time Finals MVP. That rarely showed on the court. Injuries, distractions, and rest kept them from playing together, developing chemistry, and going through adversity together. Through it all, there was a sense of entitlement around this team. The Clippers believed when the time came they could flip the switch.

It turns out, they couldn’t even find the switch.

Denver, on the other hand, can flip its switch.

The Denver Nuggets got 40 points from a resurgent Jamal Murray and a dominating triple-double from Nikola Jokic — 16 points, 22 rebounds, 13 assists — to come from double-digits down again to blow the doors off the Clippers and win Game 7 104-89.  The Nuggets beat the Clippers and the series 4-3.

The Nuggets advance to the Western Conference Finals to take on the Los Angeles Lakers, starting Friday.

“We are just not accepting that somebody’s better than us,” Jokic said.

“I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out; chemistry it didn’t,” Lou Williams said. “In this series, it failed us. We know this is our first year together. We are a highly talented group and we came up short. Chemistry is something that you’ve got to build. You build it over time.”

Denver built it, even with a young team, through continuity of the core and the system. Plus, this team just has grit.

Denver becomes the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 down in a series twice in one playoffs — and they did it in the first two rounds. The Nuggets out hustled and out executed the Clippers throughout the last four games, sticking to coach Mike Malone’s game plan. Denver was flat out the better team.

Through the first six games of the series — having learned a lesson from watching what he did to Utah — the Clippers were all over Murray with their best defenders. They would not let him get rolling. The price for that was Jokic had more space and in the past three games he had carved up the Clippers defense. In Game 7, the Clippers doubled hard on Jokic because they didn’t want to let him take them down. It didn’t work — Jokic was passing and still impacting the game — but Murray had more space and stepped up with 25 first-half points. He finished with 40.

In the second half, the Nuggets just beat the Clippers, got whatever they wanted on offense while the Clippers shooters had T-Rex arms.

The Clippers scored just 33 points the entire second half, shooting 28.5% for the half and they were 3-of-18 from three — including Paul George hitting the side of the backboard with a corner three. Here is the clippers’ second-half shot chart.

Clippers 2nd half shotchart

For the game, Leonard was 6-of-22 shooting, George 4-of-16.

The Clippers’ defense may have been worse than their offense in the second half. Combined that led to an ugly half of basketball and a painful elimination for a team that was championship or bust.

“Right now, just disappointed,” coach Doc Rivers said of his mood. “You know, honestly I thought just you could see the difference in the two teams. That team has been together, we haven’t, and you could see it as the games went on. They just knew each other so well.”

With this bust, the Clippers have a lot of questions to answer.

To get George (and with him, Leonard as a free agent), Los Angeles traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, their own first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, two other first-round picks belonging to Miami (2021 and 2023), and agreed to pick-swaps with Oklahoma City 2023 and 2025. It was a lot to surrender.

What the Clippers were guaranteed was two years, two playoff runs with those stars. This was one of them, and because of the expectations and hype around this team, it is the on-court low point for a franchise that has had some deep lows before.

Now Doc Rivers’ coaching, the lack of defense in the supporting cast — Montrezl Harrell is a free agent this summer — and what changes can be made all come into question.

The Clippers, they talked about the lack of chemistry. Rivers mentioned multiple players missed time in the bubble (for excused, legitimate reasons, plus some wings) and that hurt the Clippers chemistry and conditioning (several Clippers were gassed at the end of the game).

“Just briefly we had a conversation already amongst guys that we’ve got a quick turnaround,” Williams said. “We understand this is going to be a quick off-season and let’s get back to work and continue to build.”

Once again, it’s wait until next year for the Clippers.

Not for the Nuggets, who had better chemistry, were the better team in this series, and beat the Clippers. The future is now for this young team.

Juancho Hernangomez missing Timberwolves workouts to film Adam Sandler movie

Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez
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The Timberwolves, like the other seven teams not invited to the NBA’s restart at Disney World, are holding workouts.

Not in Minnesota: Forward Juancho Hernangomez.

Chris Hine of the StarTribune:

A team spokesperson said Hernangomez is filming Adam Sandler’s latest project in Philadelphia.

Netflix is producing the film, called “Hustle.”

And people thought LeBron James – also a producer of “Hustle,” which is about a basketball scout who finds talent oversees – prioritized Hollywood over hoops.

A Spain native, Hernangomez will be a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves can make him restricted.

But how could anyone want a player who doesn’t respect the sanctity of voluntary workouts occurring several months before next season (besides his 3-point shooting, rebounding and defensive versatility)?

Buddy Hield fuels 76ers trade rumor

Kings guard Buddy Hield vs. 76ers
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A rumor emerged about the Kings trading Buddy Hield to the 76ers. It didn’t seem particularly credible.

But then Hield himself liked this Instagram post promoting a potential trade and apparently made a pro-Philadelphia comment on Instagram:

Hield previously laid the groundwork for an offseason trade request. He seemed unhappy at times in Sacramento this season, losing his starting job and even riding the bench when the Kings needed a 3-pointer.

The 76ers could use more shooting – especially if they hire Mike D’Antoni. Hield would definitely add value. A lineup where Hield and Josh Richardson defend guards and Ben Simmons plays point guard offensively and defends a frontcourt player is intriguing.

Hield is set to earn $24,931,817 next season in the first year of a four-year extension. That’s in the range of Tobias Harris ($34,358,850) and Al Horford ($27,500,000).

However, Horford’s trade value is at rock bottom. Tobias Harris would add only so much value to Sacramento, which already has Harrison Barnes.

Kings fans can hope for Ben Simmons ($28,750,000) or Joel Embiid ($29,542,010). But those stars are FAR more valuable than Hield. Besides, the 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Simmons or Embiid (though it’s unclear who exactly is running the show in Philadelphia).

Regardless of whether the Kings and 76ers could connect on a trade, Hield making these public gestures is an issue in Sacramento. It’s on new Kings general manager Monte McNair to manage this. After years of supporting Daryl Morey with the Rockets, this is a new challenge – being in charge while a player makes waves – for McNair.

Relatedly, McNair must also handle Bogdan Bogdanovic‘s impending restricted free agency. These look like warning shots from Hield as Sacramento determines its priorities at shooting guard.

Report: Philadelphia ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as next coach

Mike D'Antoni 76ers
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Philadelphia 76ers ownership (led by Josh Harris) reportedly has been very hands-on in picking the team’s new coach — even if that means a new direction for the roster. That hands-on style reportedly why ownership likes Elton Brand as GM and may balk at bringing in a big-name president of basketball operations — that person would want total control of basketball decisions. Right now, ownership is pulling a lot of those levers.

And ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as the next head coach in Philadelphia, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have been saying since last week that the job is D’Antoni’s to turn down. They say he’s the guy the ownership group wants. One source even said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job.

The problem is that Brand is supposed to have a huge input on the hire. The ownership is only supposed to approve or deny Brand’s suggestion. Now, word is leaking out that Brand is pushing hard for the Sixers to hire D’Antoni and that Joel Embiid gave his blessing. In addition, there are reports that the Sixers will make trades if D’Antoni is hired. The expectation is that he’ll have a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.

With Billy Donovan taking over in Chicago, the list of top candidates for the Philadelphia job seems down to two: Tyronn Lue and Mike D’Antoni. Lue would be the conventional choice, a guy who would try to make it work with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford. Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Lue the idea would be making better use of the roster and style the 76ers have already built.

D’Antoni would be a radical change of direction — he is coming from a team that just started 6’7″ Robert Covington at center. The current 76ers roster would need changes to fit with D’Antoni’s freewheeling ways, and even then the coach would need to adapt what he wants to do. (No contract is untradeable, but moving the four-years, $147.2 million left on Harris’ deal, or the three years and $81 million on Horford’s contract, would require Philly to throw in a lot of sweeteners.)

D’Antoni would mean another change of direction in Philly, but that seems to be what ownership wants.

Bam Adebayo on injury: “I’m good,” expects to play in Game 5 Friday

Bam Adebayo injury
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In the final minutes of Miami’s Game 4 win, while Tyler Hero was knocking down shots and Jimmy Butler was getting to the line, Miami‘s Bam Adebayo was dealing with an injury, walking around holding his wrist, his arm dragging. He had gotten tangled up with Daniel Theis under the basket and clearly injured something.

The questions raised post game were about what happened, how serious it was, and could Adebayo be out for Game 5 on Friday? There was nothing official from the team but it looks like he will play, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press and Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

Adebayo had 20 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4, and his play is critical to Miami’s game plan against Boston. His ability to protect the rim at one end, then come out high to set screens and pull Theis out of the paint on the other end, is at the heart of what the Heat want to do in this series. If he is even slowed in Game 5 it is an advantage for Boston.

This time of year, and with the Heat one game away from the NBA Finals, no chance he sits if he can at all play.