Shootaround (Feb. 14): Nuggets dig deep to upset Warriors
Plus, an update on Ben Simmons, LaMarcus Aldridge's thoughts on the All-Star roster and much more
Nuggets refuse to fold vs. Warriors | Report: Smith could return in 3 weeks | Aldridge upset over Spurs’ lack of All-Stars | Magic clarifies ‘call the shots’ talk | Simmons may not suit up in 2016-17
No. 1: Short-handed Nuggets refuse to fold vs. Warriors — On paper, last night’s Warriors-Nuggets game in Denver seemed like one where Golden State would trump a young team with a barrage of 3-pointers. Denver, however, wasn’t about to just fold it up and instead gave Golden State a taste of its own medicine with 24 3-pointers, a mark that tied an NBA record. Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post has more on one of Denver’s biggest wins this season:
Before Monday night’s 132-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors, Nuggets coach Michael Malone shrugged his shoulders and dismissed the notion that his short-handed team didn’t have an opportunity to shock the NBA world.
“Whoever’s available, let’s go out there and play, man,” he said. “Don’t go out there defeated. Go out there and accept the challenge. Let’s go out there and play with the belief that we can win this game.”
Well, they did. And then some.
Playing the most inspired basketball of the season, the Nuggets — minus Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay and new acquisition Mason Plumlee — pulled off what most thought would be impossible.
The Nuggets not only won, but thoroughly whipped last season’s Western Conference champions on an electric night at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets’ signature win of the season got its juice from record-setting 3-point shooting.
Not that Nikola Jokic was buying any signature win talk.
“First of all I don’t know nothing about a signature win,” Jokic said. “I really don’t know. I just wanted to win the game — every game.”
The Nuggets’s statistics were eye-catching:
– Juancho Hernangomez with a season and career high 27 points. He made six 3-pointers. He also had a career-high 10 rebounds.
– Nikola Jokic had his second career triple-double with 17 points, a career-high 21 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists.
– Jameer Nelson had a season-high 23 points.
– Will Barton had another double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds.
It was that kind of night.
“Guys really got after it,” Barton said. “We knew we were down men and we just wanted to bring a big-time effort.”
The game was so well in hand that Golden State didn’t bother to play its stars, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, in the fourth quarter at all. The Warriors’ second unit did cut into the lead, getting it down to nine, but the Nuggets quickly pushed it back to 17 and held on from there to cap a special night.
“It’s crazy,” Harris said. “It makes you want to get the ball and shoot it because it just feels like… if we shoot like that not many teams can beat us.”
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No. 2: Report: Cavs’ Smith could be back in 3 weeks — The Cleveland Cavaliers understandably concerned after getting word that All-Star forward Kevin Love is seeking a second opinion on his left knee injury. While they wait for word on what’s next for him, they are getting closer to having another key player — shooting guard J.R. Smith — back in the lineup soon. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and Chris Haynes have more:
Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith, who is on target for a mid-March return, could take the court in as soon as three weeks in his comeback from a right thumb fracture, league sources told ESPN.
The sharpshooter is progressing well in his recovery from the injury that he sustained in late December, sources said. Barring an unforeseen setback, Smith will be back on the floor next month.
At the time of his injury, it was not anticipated that Smith would return to the lineup before late March or early April.
A team source told ESPN that Smith will have his right thumb reimaged during the All-Star break, and that could adjust his timeline. Asked to characterize Smith’s rehab process so far, the source said, “great.”
Smith is shooting with the injured hand without severe pain, sources said. He is in the process of strengthening the wrist and thumb area along with trying to get his conditioning up to speed, a source said.
Assuming Smith is able to return by mid-March, he would have roughly 16 games to regain his form before the postseason begins.
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No. 3: Aldridge: ‘Wrong’ for Warriors to have four All-Stars to Spurs’ one — Just like last season, the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors are leading the way in the Western Conference. Unlike a season ago, however, the Spurs have just one player representing them at the 2017 NBA All-Star Game (Kawhi Leonard), whereas last season they had two (Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge). Golden State, on the other hand, has one more All-Star than it did a season ago. That discrepancy wasn’t lost on Aldridge, who chimed in on it and more in an interview with The Vertical’s Michael Lee:
Going from a leading man to part of a super ensemble comes with its challenges, but Aldridge continues to adjust and has finally settled into a role in a share-the-wealth system that is foreign to what he had known his first nine seasons in the league. That championship still eludes him after the first season in his home-state return ended with a second-round thud. But the Spurs have been racking up regular-season wins at a record-breaking pace for the storied franchise, going 108-28 since luring Aldridge in a rare free-agent coup.
Aldridge has done his part, sacrificing the chase for gaudy statistics to be part of a machine that again has the league’s second-best record. That success warrants greater consideration for Kawhi Leonard as MVP but certainly doesn’t come on the back of a one-man show. And as one of four players who have made an All-NBA team in each of the past three seasons – along with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul – Aldridge would’ve liked for his reputation as a five-time All-Star, along with the Spurs’ stellar record, to have led to him joining Leonard in New Orleans for the All-Star Game.
“I’m older, so I’m not going to come home and be mad or anything,” Aldridge, 31, told The Vertical. “But I do think that it was wrong for Golden State to have four [All-Stars] and we’re a few games behind and only have one. It is what it is. I’m in this position and I’m going to enjoy my break and just come back fresh.”
In his first season in San Antonio, Aldridge struggled trying to find the balance between blending and being assertive. Popovich and Aldridge’s teammates urged him to stop being gun-shy and to demand the ball more, but the confusion led Aldridge to too often get in his own head – a place Tim Duncan encouraged him to avoid lest he overthink. Aldridge still has his moments now, but not nearly as frequently.
“It was very difficult, because I couldn’t be the guy that I’ve been my whole career. It was very difficult to adjust from being who I was to who I am now,” Aldridge told The Vertical. “Now, I’m fine. I do what I’m asked to do. I rebound, take shots every now and then. I’m not really asked to be that guy that I was, so I just the play the role that they want me to play. Play defense. Do pick-and-pop when they need it, and other than that just play off Kawhi.”
Leonard’s ascension from being a star reluctant to step on toes to a top-10 scorer has been paramount to that success, especially with Duncan off detailing cars and being a doting father in his post-basketball career. But so has a selfless, supportive culture in which players take turns having their nights instead of wrestling for shots.
Aldridge’s scoring and rebounding (17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game) are almost identical to his numbers from last season but he has had to do more of the dirty work and become more of a defensive anchor. And when his number isn’t called, Aldridge has found other ways to remain engaged, leading to the occasional, angry putback dunk.
“I’ve grown as far as learning to do other things than score,” Aldridge told The Vertical. “That’s what I do, that’s who I am, but here, not so much. I’m trying to learn other ways to be involved in the game, whether that’s crashing the boards or getting guys open. Doing things other than what I naturally do. I think it’s just shown that I can do other things, too. I should feel more comfortable this year. I do at times.”
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No. 4: Johnson clarifies ‘call the shots’ comment — Last week, new Los Angeles Lakers adviser Magic Johnson stirred up some emotions in Lakerland when he said he’d love to “call the shots” for the organization at some point. Johnson was on “CBS This Morning” yesterday and clarified a bit about what his role will be with the Lakers and, in an interview with ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, sought to further clarify his “call the shots” comment:
Magic Johnson will meet with Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and co-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss on Monday to discuss the construction of the current team and the team’s strategy heading into the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
“Everybody has to be on the same page right now,” Johnson told ESPN. “What we should be concerned about is not just right now, but how it will affect the future of the Lakers. That’s why we all have to be on the same page.”
“Last week someone asked me if I wanted to call the shots. I’d told them my role was as an adviser. Then he said, ‘Do you want to call the shots?’ And I said, ‘I would love to call the shots.’ But I know that I’m an adviser. Jim is the one calling the shots. I’m just an adviser. But I want to make sure that I have some type of input, and then he can decide how he wants to use that input,” Johnson said.
“When I say calling the shots, it’s more, ‘Somebody has to be the final decision-maker.’ I would love that to be me. Everybody has their input, and then somebody has to make the final call. Once we gather all the facts, I’d love to be the person making the final call.”
Johnson said he envisioned a role in which a general manager reported to him.
“I’d rely on people to do that, and same persona would be the day-to-day person,” Johnson said. “Then I’d have that role where that person reports to me, and we’d talk about where we are, what we’re doing, whether that’s scouting players, whether that’s transactions, whether we’re going to extend a player. All those things.”
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No. 5: Simmons may not make NBA debut this season — The top pick in the 2016 Draft, Ben Simmons, has been working feverishly to make his NBA debut ever since he suffered a fracture to his foot on the final day of training camp. There was a report about a month ago that he would make his debut after the All-Star break, but per Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it’s looking like Simmons may not suit up at all this season:
It appears the chances of seeing Ben Simmons in a 76ers uniform this season are getting slimmer and slimmer.
Last week, coach Brett Brown stated that for Simmons to be ready for game activity, the first overall pick would have to play more than five 5-on-5 games. Asked pregame at the Spectrum Center whether Simmons would start playing some more and get to the 5-on-5 area, Brown didn’t hesitate with his answer about the rookie who fractured his foot on the last day of training camp on Sept. 30.
“I don’t think so,” Brown said. “I feel like he’s moving forward, but to say that we believe he’s going to be ready for 5-on-5 during the All-Star break would be misleading. I don’t see that.
“He is moving forward but it’s at a very slow pace, our pace. I think when we all get back and he’s around the team again, because it’s not an ideal situation to manufacture 5-on-5 during a break, then we can better craft and construct to allow the return to play to be more responsible.”
The thoughts/hopes of many were that Simmons would be able to make an appearance at some point after the break. But the 6-10 passing wizard hasn’t been traveling with the team lately in what has been a heavy travel month and if his coach doesn’t see it fit for him to be playing with below NBA talent, the possibility of him playing this season seems to be slight, at best.
Asked last week if he would like to see Joel Embiid and Simmons on the floor together this season, president Bryan Colangelo quickly said yes, that evaluating the two of them together to see what sort of pieces the team should surround those cornerstones with was paramount.
Embiid will miss the remaining two games before the All-Star break and not participate in any of the weekend activities in New Orleans. After Wednesday, the 7-2 center will have missed 11 consecutive games and 14 of the past 15 as he rests the bone bruise and minor meniscus tear in his left knee.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Where does the San Antonio Spurs’ run of 20 straight winning seasons rank among the four major U.S. sports? … Kevin Durant’s mom was out on Twitter trolling Thunder fans recently … The Utah Jazz revealed their uniform sponsor yesterday … The Denver Nuggets are expecting new center Mason Plumlee to fit seamlessly into their gameplan … New Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is ready to help his team however he can … Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins says the assessment of embattled GM Rob Hennigan’s job performance will take place at season’s end … Speaking of the Magic, forward Aaron Gordon says he doesn’t foresee himself missing the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans … Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love is seeking a second opinion about his left knee injury … NBA commissioner Adam Silver is hoping Charles Oakley and New York Knicks owner James Dolan can resolve their feud soon … Interesting, thorough read on what it might take for NBA to expand/add teams anytime soon …