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Blogtable: Are you a believer in Nuggets this season? – WSAIGO Sports
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Blogtable: Are you a believer in Nuggets this season?

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The Nuggets have scored some big wins lately. How far do you see Denver going this season? What has you believing (or not believing) in them?

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Steve Aschburner:  Here’s how much I like the Nuggets — if LeBron James had wanted first and foremost to win another championship ring, and do so quickly, I think Denver would have been a better summer destination for him than the Lakers. Coach Michael Malone is working with a great ensemble, in need mostly of that tent-pole guy and reliable closer. As is, I think the Nuggets can go as far as the Western Conference finals, particularly if they get marvelously skilled big man Nikola Jokic to consistently play more aggressively on offense.

Shaun Powell:  You must believe in Denver because as good as this team has looked lately, they’ve yet to reach the ceiling. What happens when Will Barton returns? Are you a believer in Isaiah Thomas, who’s also mending? Assuming these additions will only deepen and bolster the lineup, there’s no reason not to believe the Nuggets will be a top-three team when the playoffs approach. Their deep lineup, solid defense most nights and freakish center in Nikola Jokic spells trouble for others.

John Schuhmann:  It’s fair to believe that the Nuggets are the early favorite to be the team that loses to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. They’re the only West team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, having seen the league’s biggest improvement on defense (6.4 fewer points allowed per 100 possessions than last season). There’s reason to be a little leery of that, because their new system (like that of the Bucks under Jason Kidd) can give up layups and corner 3-pointers, and much of their success is about their opponent 3-point percentage (lowest in the league), a number which can be a little deceiving at this point in the season. But the players have bought in and they’ve played more games against top-10 offenses (nine) than they have against bottom-10 offenses (seven). Their bench has been very good (Trey Lyles can play), and should be better upon the return of Will Barton.

Sekou Smith:  The Nuggets came into this season on my teams-on-the-rise list and they’ve lived up to it so far. They’ve got the talent and depth to be a top-four team in the Western Conference playoff chase. They are that good. And yes, it’s easy to believe in a team when they are tied for the No. 1 spot in the West. But what we’re talking about is projecting where this Nuggets team is headed over the course of the next four-plus months. I’m not nervous at all about projecting the Nuggets as a part of that top-four mix. I am confident they won’t see a repeat of last season, when they played for a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season (and lost it to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime).

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About Last Night: Game-winners and angry words

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They’re not conference rivals, but the Thunder and Sixers don’t share a passive relationship.

That’s especially true of Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook, who collided with more than words during Saturday’s 117-115 Thunder victory. The Sixers center sent Westbrook to the floor in transition, and the Thunder star immediately took exception to what he felt was extra contact at the end of the play.

 

After the game, Westbrook doubled down on his point of view.

“I don’t think he just landed on me,” Westbrook said. “He had a little extra to it. But it’s OK.”

When asked if he and Embiid were “cool” now that the play and game were over, Westbrook quickly answered, “[Expletive] no!”

For his part, Embiid denied any malicious intent but did not resist observing that Westbrook is “always in his feelings.”

This is not the first time the former Kia MVP and Rookie of the Year have clashed. The pair shared not-so-pleasantries after last year’s triple-overtime game between the two teams. First Embiid waved a fouled-out Steven Adams off the court:

 

Then Westbrook returned the favor after Oklahoma City ultimately edged the Sixers 119-117.

 

As for Saturday’s on-court result, Paul George turned up big yet again for OKC with the game-winning 3-pointer 5.1 seconds remaining. The five-time All-Star is averaging career-highs in points (26.7), rebounds (8.0), steals (2.3) and made 3s (3.4) per game.

The Thunder and Sixers meet again on Feb. 28, and yes, the game will be nationally televised.

 

Horry Scale: Hield’s one-handed heave

A reminder on The Horry Scale: It breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in January?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.

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Buddy Hield was hot, cold and then hot again for the Kings, who remain well within the Western Conference playoff race thanks to his game-winning 3-pointer at Detroit. The play capped off a night in which Hield scored 20 in the first half, went scoreless through for the first 20-plus minutes in the second half, and finally poured in 15 points in the game’s final 3:26.

 

Buddy Hield wins it for the Kings in Detroit.

DIFFICULTY: Technically, Hield was triple-teamed on the game’s final play. Yet somehow all three defenders lost him as he stopped through for a leaning, one-handed push shot as time expired. The move and form aren’t ideal, but the shot itself wasn’t nearly as contested as it should have been. That being said, you try and make duplicate that in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

GAME SITUATION: With 3.4 seconds remaining on the inbounds play, the Kings had plenty of time for a solid play and a few dribbles to boot. Unfortunately Hield lost his dribble on the pass and was immediately swarmed behind the 3-point arc. With his team down one and time running out, Hield made the most savvy and aware play he could under the circumstances.

CELEBRATION: Hield channeled his inner soccer player and sprinted a lap around the court even as his teammates tried to chase him down, which they ultimately did in the locker room. The sequence highlighted the collective youth and renewed energy within the team, which has seen them off to their best start since 2004-05. 

GRADE: Sacramento needs every win it can get to stay afloat in the competitive West. Hield has been one of the biggest reasons behind the word “win” being used in Sacramento again. Slap this moment in the Kings’ feel-good scrapbook of 2018-19. Three and a half Horrys.

 

 

Harden’s help steps up

We’re at the point that James Harden putting up 40-plus is more of a thing than an event.  The reigning Kia MVP added a 48-point night to his historic run in Houston’s dramatic 138-134 overtime win over the Lakers.

Yet it was the other Rockets who made some of the game’s most pivotal plays. PJ Tucker added to his fan favorite status with the kind of hustle and offensive rebounds that kept both fans and teammates engaged. Gerald Green scored eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. Eric Gordon poured in 10 points in the five-minute overtime.

The Rockets are in full all-hands-on-deck mode without the services of Clint Capela and Chris Paul. In a key Western Conference matchup, Houston saw that call answered.

 

Message received?

 

Kyrie Irving scores 32 points against the Hawks in Atlanta.

For much of Saturday’s game at Atlanta, it looked like Kyrie Irving would continue to be displeased with the course his team has taken. Boston trailed nearly all of the first three quarters despite 23 first-half points from Irving, who last week called out his younger teammates’ ability to win.

A Celtics lineup of Jayson Tatum (20), Jaylen Brown (22), Semi Ojeleye (24), Terry Rozier (24) and Aron Baynes (32) ripped off a 14-4 run to start the fourth quarter, forcing coach Brad Stevens to actually pull Irving back from checking in earlier than he did.

The Celtics ultimately pulled away for the 113-105 win. As for Irving, he’s averaging 32.3 points, 11.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3.

 

Wade’s homecoming/farewell

Miami’s living legend continued his swan song season where his life started, putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in his final game at Chicago.

The Bulls paid homage to their native son with a look back at this brief time on the team and within the community:

 

Wade in turn honored his hometown team by swapping jerseys not with a player, but with the team’s iconic mascot, Benny the Bull.

 

Rough night for rookies

Niether Luka Doncic nor Deandre Ayton had memorable nights. The Mavs’ lead playmaker was tossed in the third quarter after earning a second technical foul, winding up with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting in Dallas’ 111-99 loss to Indiana.

Ayton, meanwhile grabbed just two rebounds in 22 minutes before leaving Phoenix’s 135-115 loss to Charlotte with a sprained ankle.



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Harden’s 30-point streak trails only Chamberlain among NBA greats

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The streak. Keeps. Going.

Rockets guard James Harden erupted for 48 points against the Lakers on Saturday, giving him 19 straight games with at least 30 as the Rockets survived in overtime for a 138-134 victory

 

Watch this transition dunk extend James Harden’s streak of 30-point games.

Harden’s run of 30-point performances now trails only NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, who posted runs of 20, 25, 31 and 65 games at various points from 1960-62. 

The reigning Kia MVP is averaging 42.5 points and 8.9 assists over those 19 games. 

READ MORE about Harden’s streak at NBA.com/Stats.

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Ball exits after injuring left ankle vs. Rockets

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The hits keep coming for the Los Angeles Lakers, who not only lost on Saturday after leading throughout regulation of a 138-134 loss to the Rockets in Houston, but also had to watch point guard Lonzo Ball exit in the third with a left ankle injury.

During a Lakers possession with nine minutes remaining in the quarter, Ball took a pass at the top of the key and drove hard toward the basket, passing off to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as James Ennis III closed hard. Ball’s left foot rolled as it came down to the ground, and Ball immediately rolled over before being carried off the court.

The Lakers updated media that Ball had been taken to an area hospital for X-rays due to an issue with the machine at the arena. The team later confirmed the results were negative.

Primary playmaker LeBron James has missed 13 games with a left groin strain originally suffered on Christmas Day, and Rajon Rondo — who had already missed 17 games due to right hand surgery — has been out since December 27 after spraining his right ring finger, which subsequently needed surgery. Rondo was recently cleared for a full return to practice and could step in if Ball is to miss any additional time.



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