Mason Plumlee

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Nuggets must overcome extreme playoff-experience deficit against Spurs

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In Game 1 of their first-round series, the Nuggets outscored the Spurs by six points in seven minutes while both teams’ starters were on the floor. The game got away from Denver the other 41 minutes, when San Antonio gained an 11-point advantage.

“They’re coming off the bench with Patty Mills, Belinelli and Rudy Gay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re coming off the bench with guys that were in the G League last year.

“We understand who we are, where we’re at.”

I don’t take Malone’s remark as a slam of his own team. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of how far and how quickly Denver has risen. Monte Morris did climb from the minor league to a key NBA role. The Nuggets did end a five-year playoff drought. They are playing the Spurs, who’ve made the postseason 22 straight years.

It’s not criticism to acknowledge the disparity of experience in this matchup.

Everyone who played for San Antonio in Game 1 had prior playoff experience. Only 35% of Denver’s minutes went to players with prior playoff experience.

Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Mason Plumlee are the only rotation Nuggets to appear in a previous postseason. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig never have.

In these 2019 playoffs, Denver has – by far – given the small share of minutes to players with prior playoff experience:

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The last team with such little playoff experience by this measure: 2016 Pistons, who had what we’ll call a Playoff-Experience Level (PEL) of just 30%. That Detroit got swept by the eventual-champion Cavaliers in the first round. Cleveland exclusively used playoff-experienced players that postseason, save four minutes for rookie Jordan McRae.

The 70-point PEL gap between those teams is also one of the highest in recent years, higher even than the 65-point PEL gap between the Nuggets and Spurs.

But the Cavs were the No. 1 seed, the Pistons the No. 8 seed. That’s usually how it goes, the more-experienced team the higher seed.

That’s not true with the second-seeded Nuggets and seventh-seeded Spurs, though. Denver outperformed San Antonio throughout the season.

Does the Spurs’ experience give them an edge now?

Here are the series with PEL gaps above 60% (using full postseason minutes) since the NBA-ABA merger. When the higher seed has a higher PEL, that series is in white. When the lower seed has a higher PEL, that series is in silver. Denver-Antonio is in gold. All teams are listed with their seed first.

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Of the few times the team with the big PEL advantage was the lower seed, the experienced team pulled the upset. That doesn’t bode well for Denver.

The largest PEL gap overcome by a higher seed since the merger? It was 59.6% by the third-seeded Celtics, who beat the sixth-seeded 76ers in the 2002 first round.

So, if the Nuggets win as a higher seed despite a 65% PEL deficit, they’ll make history.

And maybe they will.

Denver is already heading up faster than its experience level would suggest.

Jamal Murray scores 27, leads Nuggets past Thunder 115-105

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — All season, Western Conference teams have been chasing Golden State.

Now they’re chasing Denver, too.

Jamal Murray scored 27 points, Nikola Jokic added 23 points and 16 rebounds, and Denver beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-105.

With Golden State’s loss to Minnesota, Denver is tied with the Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets huddled around Isaiah Thomas‘ phone to watch the conclusion of the Warriors-Timberwolves game.

“It’s fun,” Murray said. “It’s been a fun journey, especially when you are winning.”

The Nuggets won all four meetings with Oklahoma City, a potential playoff opponent, this season.

“It doesn’t mean much,” Denver forward/center Mason Plumlee said. “If we see them in the playoffs it will be a whole new matchup. They are a good team and we know that and we respect them and we are just looking forward to the next game.”

Murray made 11 of 20 shots and had nine assists without a turnover.

“I liked his poise, his leadership and his maturity,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “That’s not easy to do against that team and this building. They turn people over and they can make you look really bad in a heartbeat, but just Jamal’s control – he never got sped up, he was always in control, running his team and being vocal, and I was excited watching him play.”

Russell Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Paul George had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder.

“I think it was good for the most part for spurts,” Westbrook said. “Not enough to be sustainable.”

Denver led 56-52 at halftime behind 13 points from Murray and 12 points and 12 rebounds by Jokic.

Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 68, but Denver responded with a 14-2 run and took an 86-75 lead into the fourth quarter.

Denver led 95-81 in the final period before Oklahoma City scored five quick points to force Denver to call timeout.

Westbrook went down hard to the ground after being fouled in the fourth quarter, and he got up and started jawing with the Nuggets bench. He scored six points in the next minute, but Murray hit a dagger 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes to play.

“They made some tough ones down the stretch,” Westbrook said. “That’s what the good teams do.”

 

Nikola Jokic returned from his suspension by grabbing a triple-double (VIDEO)

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Saturday night in the NBA was the night of triple-doubles. Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum notched his first-ever triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks in a win at home with Damian Lillard sitting out while resting various ailments.

Then Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic added another triple-double as his team beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 126-110.

Jokic’s triple-double was a historic one at that. According to the NBA, Jokic’s triple-double helped him join Oscar Robertson as just one of two players in history with multiple 30-point, 15-rebound, and 10-assist games before the age of 24.

It was the first game back for Jokic after he was suspended for one game after leaving the bench during an altercation between Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors and Mason Plumlee on Jan. 23. Jokic missed the next game against the Phoenix Suns, but returned to Denver in style.

With the way Jokic plays, it seems as though he is primed to notch more triple-doubles in his career. Now, if someone would just give him a high five.

Take a look at the highlights from his historic performance in the video above.

Three Things to Know: James Harden’s Chamberlainesqe run hits new high in New York

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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) James Harden’s Chamberlainesqe run hits a new high in Madison Square Garden. For all he has dome already in his career — MVP award, scoring champion, six-time All-Star, Sixth Man of the Year — James Harden had never had his Garden moment.

Check that one off the list.

James Harden went into Madison Square Garden and dropped 61 on the Knicks Wednesday night leading the Rockets to a 114-110 win.

This was impressive on so many levels we’re going to bullet points.

• It was Harden’s career high.
• The 61 tied Kobe Bryant for most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden since 1968. (Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at 62).
• Those 61 points are now the Rockets’ franchise record for a game.
• Harden in this game became the first NBA player to shoot at least 20 threes and 20 free throws in a game.
• This was Harden’s 21st consecutive 30-point game, tying the legendary Wilt Chamberlain for fourth-longest such streak in league history (Chamberlain has the top three, too).
• This was his fifth 50+ point game this season, the only other players to have five or more are Kobe and Michael Jordan
• Harden has averaged 52.2 points per game in his last five games, a total of 261 points.
• Harden scored those 261 points without a teammate assisting on one of those buckets. (Some people want to use this as a slight to Harden and call him selfish, but it’s more about his teammates and the lack of other shot creators on this team. They don’t have them, and Harden has to do this to win — he dropped 61 and they only beat the lowly Knicks by four. The Rockets are 3-2 during this insane run because of those teammates and the team’s defense. Also, he would have a lot more than 21 assists in those five games if his teammates could knock down shots.)
• Harden became the first player to score 60+ points and have 15+ rebounds in a game since then-Laker Shaquille O’Neal in March of 2000.

To cap it off, Harden had the seal and dunk that sealed the win.

2) Pacers’ Victor Oladipo was taken off the court on a stretcher with what looks to be a serious knee injury. All we can do is hope this is not as bad as it looked. But the Pacers fear that it is.

Indiana’s All-Star (and a lock to be again this season) Victor Oladipo went down with an ugly-to-watch knee injury. Here is the video, but know this is hard to watch and some of you may want to skip it.

The Pacers called the injury “serious” and said an MRI is scheduled for Thursday, but we know nothing else concrete, yet. It’s safe to say the Pacers are not optimistic about the outcome of that MRI.

Indiana is 32-15 on the season and hung on against Toronto to win without Oladipo 110-107. This season the Pacers are 7-4 with an impressive +6.6 per game when Oladipo has missed the game — if they can just hang around .500 the rest of the way Indiana will cruise into the playoffs.

However, this team is not near the same threat without Oladipo. If he is going to miss the rest of this season and, potentially, much of next season, the Pacers’ front office may want to change plans and become sellers at the trade deadline. They have to consider adding youth and athleticism to the roster and targeting when Oladipo returns from this injury. It puts a lot of things up in the air.

Which is too bad, because Indiana was one of the great stories of this season.

3) Jazz beat Nuggets in what had the intensity of a playoff game. In Salt Lake City, they see the upstart team in second place in the West, the team with the center who is a media darling and players winning over fans, and they think “that should be us, not Denver.” Instead, Utah got off to a slow start and only recently has put things together to climb back into the playoff picture.

Last night the teams faced off in what was one of the more intense and entertaining games of the season — it felt a lot like the playoffs for a Wednesday in January.

Rudy Gobert may be the best defensive center in the game and the Jazz one of the elite defenses in the league, but they don’t have an answer for Nikola Jokic either, he had 28 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists in the game.

Gobert himself scored 15 points and had three blocks, but this was the Donovan Mitchell show — 35 points with six three-pointers in what ended up a 114-108 Jazz win. Utah has figured it out this season, this is not a game they won a couple of months ago.

Of course, what everyone is talking about is the first quarter scuffle between Utah big man Derrick Favors and Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Both men got ejected for this.

But that’s not the interesting part. Denver’s Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. To be fair, Jokic never steps on to the court itself and never engages with any Jazz players (before an assistant pulled him back to the bench). We’ll see how the league responds, but guys have been suspended for less.

Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee ejected after scuffle during Jazz, Nuggets game (VIDEO)

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The most pressing question out of this is not even the fight itself.

In the first quarter of Utah’s eventual win over Denver, Jazz big man Derrick Favors got tangled up with Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Favors pulled Plumlee’s arm, at which point Plumlee came back and got in his face, then Favors shoves Plumlee and a little scuffle breaks out.

Both Favors and Plumlee were ejected for the incident. Utah’s Royce O’Neale and Denver’s Will Barton picked up technicals.

None of that is what people are talking about.

Watch the video again: Denver’s Nikola Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. Jokic never steps on to the court (he stays along the baseline) and never engages with the combatants. Still, guys have been suspended for less.

Jokic went on to score 28 points, grab 21 rebounds, and he dished out 6 assists. It wasn’t enough as Rudy Gobert had 15 points and three blocks, and Donovan Mitchell had 35 points in a 114-108 Jazz win, one of their best in the season in what was a highly entertaining game.