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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.

Tony Parker’s playoff streak ends at 17 years, third-longest in NBA history

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When the Spurs drafted him out of France in 2001, Tony Parker was still a novelty. Gregg Popovich summarized the concern: “Everybody knows you don’t get point guards from Europe, because they’re generally not quick enough and they don’t have a grasp of the NBA game.”

Now, Parker is one of the standard-bearers for having a grasp of the NBA game. He became the starting point guard on a playoff team as a teenage rookie, and he has sustained his success nearly two decades.

That’s part of the reason the Hornets signed him last summer. Unfortunately for Parker, that move will also end his playoff streak.

After reaching the postseason all 17 of his seasons with San Antonio, Parker will fall short with Charlotte, which was eliminated from the playoff race yesterday.

Only Karl Malone and John Stockton (19 seasons each) have longer postseason streaks. Parker is tied with Jason Kidd at 17.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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With LeBron James‘ Lakers also missing the playoffs and ending his 13-year postseason streak, Parker’s exclusion puts 76ers guard J.J. Redick in line to take over the longest active playoff streak. Redick has played in the last 12 postseasons.

Here are the longest active playoff streaks among players on teams headed to the 2019 postseason. Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

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Correction: Patty Mills was added to the above graphic.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are still humming.

Gregg Popovich on Spurs’ struggles: ‘I’ve got to do a better job’

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The San Antonio Spurs have lost 5-of-7, been blown out by 30+ in back-to-back games, and have fallen to 14th in the West in the standings.  It’s been ugly basketball, not a phrase we associate with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. The culprit is a defense that is worst in the NBA over that stretch, but the offense has looked out of sync and fairly average throughout the rough patch.

After a crushing loss to the Rockets on Friday night (136-105) Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took the blame, reports Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

“It’s a game where you try to continue to get better at all aspects,” Popovich said. “We’re obviously discombobulated on offense. So a lot of that has to do with me. I’ve got to do a better job there. I think defensively, we’ve obviously got to shore up our effort and our wisdom at that end of the court. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Players, of course, had Popovich’s back.

Popovich has three primary scorers — DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay — who prefer to shoot from the midrange, in the 16-18 foot range. So far this season the Spurs are taking more threes than they ever have in franchise history 24.8 per game, it’s just not keeping pace with the number of threes taken around the league. Popovich has rolled with the players he has, counting to the three-heavy trend of recent years, but the simple fact of the matter is 3>2.

Maybe this could work if the Spurs had a good defense, but when they lost Dejonte Murray for the season it was a tremendous blow, and Pau Gasol being out now is not helping. The Spurs defense is a mess and they don’t have the offensive firepower to cover it up. This isn’t about Popovich the coach — or whether or not he likes the three ball — this is about talent. That’s what wins in the NBA and the Spurs don’t have enough of it.

Veteran Patty Mills seems to have summed up the Spurs’ mood best.

“Guys feel embarrassed and deflated, and rightfully so,” guard Patty Mills said. “It’s the big picture. It’s who we represent when we put these jerseys on. It’s who we play for. It’s much bigger than that, and we need to understand that we are here just for a short time amongst this organization that will be here for a lot longer than we are. We’ve got to take pride in that.”

Three Things to Know: Boston’s offense lacks any magic in loss to Orlando

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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) Bad loss for Boston: Offense stumbles again and Celtics fall to Magic. I get it, we’re just four games into the NBA season and the Celtics are still adjusting to having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the rotation. This early the defense isn’t expected to be at its switching peak yet. Everything is a work in progress and it’s far too early to even get nervous.

But the Celtics were manhandled down the stretch by the Raptors. Then Boston almost lost to an unimpressive Knicks team.

Now comes a home loss to Orlando. That is a bad loss. Boston is simply not playing well right now.

Following an unimpressive preseason, the Celtics are 2-2 to open the season after a 93-90 loss to the punchless Magic Monday. While Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin were able to get in the paint and kick out, and Nikola Vucevic had 24 and 12, it wasn’t the Magic offense torching the Celtics defense that was the biggest problem on the night. Once again, Boston’s offense looked out of sync, as evidenced by them shooting 7-of-20 in the first quarter or going 9-of-40 from three (22.5 percent). When the long Magic defenders stopped the Celtics’ initial actions, Boston players were not making passes that started good actions elsewhere, they just looked stagnant.

Meanwhile, the Magic had their young star, Jonathan Isaac, making plays.

The Celtics’ offensive chemistry is a work in progress — they will get there, this team will be elite, but it’s going to take a lot longer than expected. Everybody thought this would be more plug-and-play, that everything would come together quickly for the Celtics with their stars back. Things seemed to come more easily last season, it’s not that way this time around. This time, Brad Stevens and crew have a lot more work to do.

It’s just four games, the Celtics have the talent and plenty of time to get it all together. But this is not the start their fans envisioned.

2) Laker defense gets them in trouble, Spurs’ Patty Mills puts the nail in the coffin. Lakers remain winless. If you want highlights, this game had plenty. There was clutch LeBron forcing overtime.

Then, capping off a dramatic comeback where the Spurs scored the final seven points of the game in the final :55 seconds, Spurs veteran Patty Mills drained his game-winning attempt.

However, he did it so fast LeBron had one more shot to win it all, he got to his spot and…

The Spurs win, 143-142 in overtime.

Get past the highlights, and LeBron’s Lakers remain winless because of the same things that have plagued them through the first two games. The Lakers do not defend well at all (the Spurs scored 125.7 points per 100 possessions, and the Lakers are bottom six in the league in defense through three games). While the Lakers’ offense is great in transition, slow them down and they are very inconsistent (and searching for consistent shooting from three). Bottom line, if the Lakers get stops and can run they are impressive, but they don’t get enough of those, and then things are a roller coaster.

It’s just three games, but for a Laker team expecting to make the playoffs in a deep West, they need to start winning sooner rather than later.

3) Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris secure Wizards win a wild overtime game in Portland. Two of the best backcourts in the NBA — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for Portland, John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington — faced off on Monday night, and the star was…

Markieff Morris?

Yes. Markieff Morris. He had 28 points and nine rebounds, including making key plays in a 125-124 overtime win for the Wizards. Damian Lillard was hitting clutch shots too, but with everything on the lin late Otto Porter rejected Lillard near the rim.

Rather than reading a description, just watch the highlights of the end of regulation and overtime, and enjoy.

Poor defense, Patty Mills game-winner keep LeBron James, Lakers winless

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LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…

The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.

For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.

Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.

Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.

LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.

“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.

For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.

It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.

The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.

It just wasn’t enough.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.