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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).
About Last Night: Legendary Lakers
Triple-doubles are rare enough. Even rarer is the air in which two teammates accomplish the feat on the same night.
That’s what happened in Charlotte on Saturday, where LeBron James (24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and Lonzo Ball (16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) each logged a triple-double in L.A.’s 128-100 rout over the Hornets.
The Laker duo becomes just the eighth set of teammates in NBA history to earn triple-doubles in the same game. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter were the most recent teammates to accomplish the feat, having done so on April 7, 2007. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson did it for the Lakers in 1982.
The complete list –
Lakers vs. Hornets, Dec. 2018: LeBron James (24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), Lonzo Ball (16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).
Nets vs. Wizards, April 2007: Vince Carter (46 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists), Jason Kidd (10 points, 16 rebounds, 18 assists).
Clippers vs. Bulls, Jan. 1989: Michael Jordan (41 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists), Scottie Pippen (15 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists))
Celtics vs. 76ers, March 1987: Larry Bird 17 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists), Robert Parrish (14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).
Lakers vs. Pistons, Dec. 1982: Magic Johnson (26 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks).
SuperSonics vs. Rockets, March 1969: Lenny Wilkens (36 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists), Art Harris (14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).
Pistons vs. Knicks. March 1964: Ray Scott (23 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists), Donnie Butcher (19 points, 15 rebounds, 15 assists).
Royals vs. Warriors, Jan. 1962: Oscar Robertson (28 points, 14 rebounds, 16 assists), Bucky Buckhorn (19 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists)
Harden heating up
Speaking of triple-doubles, James Harden had himself one in Houston’s 105-97 win over Memphis. The reigning Kia MVP finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, marking the seventh time in his career he had logged triple-doubles in back-to-back games.
Houston’s all-time record when Harden rings up all those double figures: 31-7.
Devin Booker is back and maybe, just maybe, better times are ahead for the woebegone Phoenix Suns. The fourth-year guard led Phoenix to a 107-99 win over Minnesota, amassing 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The victory gave Phoenix its first consecutive wins of the season — and their first such streak since Dec. 29, 2017.
Oh yeah, and it looks like they’ll be trading Trevor Ariza after all.
Get yourself a friend like…
Kyle Kuzma, who made sure LeBron didn’t resume play without addressing a flaw in his otherwise flawless beard.
Bulls Finnish strong
No Zach LaVine. Down 21 on the road. Normally those two factors would have made a Bulls loss a foregone conclusion.
Not this time. Lauri Markkanen spearheaded Chicago’s second-half comeback in which he and Kris Dunn (29 second-half points combined) nearly outscored the entire Spurs team (31) after halftime. In the end, it was the Bulls who wound up as unlikely victors at the Alamo.
Markkanen finished with 23 points, his second 20-point performance in nine days — with the Bulls winning both of those games.
A cappella only, please
Sorry, Lance, but no air guitars allowed while celebrating.
Grizzlies GM Wallace dubs failed trade ‘unfathomable’
Chris Wallace has been in the NBA since 1986. He’s seen and done a lot as a front office executive.
On Saturday, the Grizzlies’ general manager told reporters he hadn’t seen anything quite like the three-team trade between Memphis, Phoenix and Washington that ultimately fell through.
“What happened last night was unfathomable. I’ve never experienced this before,” Wallace told reporters.
The Grizzlies, Suns and Wizards had a deal in place that would have sent swingman Trevor Ariza to Washington, Kelly Oubre to Memphis and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. When reports differed as to whether the Suns were acquiring Dillon or MarShon Brooks from Memphis, however, the deal fell apart. Phoenix insisted on Dillon Brooks, while Memphis maintained it had intended to deal MarShon Brooks all along.
Neither team was willing to yield on its stated preference, leaving Phoenix and Washington to agree on a two-team trade the following day. Both Brooks, meanwhile, remain with the Grizzlies.
“That forced me to do something I’ve never done in 30-plus years working in this league with seven teams, is to drag two players out of a locker room and tell them they’ve been traded and then eventually have to come back and tell them, ‘Oh, no, you haven’t been traded,'” Wallace said.
“We ask a lot of these guys and we try to communicate with them at all times,” Wallace added. “We do not want them to know about trades from another party; we want to be the ones that tell them. We were forced to come in at that time and say something. That put us in a very difficult situation.”
James, Ball earn triple-doubles in same game
The meshing of LeBron James with the young Lakers now includes a significant milestone.
James and second-year guard Lonzo Ball each finished with a triple-double during the Lakers’ 128-100 rout at Charlotte on Saturday. The four-time Kia MVP finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists before sitting out the fourth quarter. Ball amassed 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists before exiting with 6:54 remaining.
The Laker duo becomes just the eighth set of teammates in NBA history to earn triple-doubles in the same game. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter are the most recent teammates to accomplish the feat, having done so on April 7, 2007. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson did it for the Lakers in 1982.
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