NBA@2: Denver Finds Nugget Of Hope Vs. Lakers
The imposing front line of the Los Angeles Lakers has given plenty of NBA head coaches nightmares, most recently Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl. The Lakers dominated the paint in Denver’s Game 1 loss to LA, with Andrew Bynum tying a playoff record with 10 blocked shots and helping limit the Nuggets to just 35 percent shooting in a 20-point blow-out. Game 2 was much closer, but Bynum and Pau Gasol still dominated, combining for 40 points and 19 rebounds in the Lakers’ win.
There was a sign of hope in that Game 2 loss, however, something that would turn out to be a harbinger of good things to come. JaVale McGee recorded six blocks in that game, very much helping Denver keep it close. If he could emerge as a factor for the Nuggets, perhaps they could make a series of it.
And emerge he did.
Game 3 was by far McGee’s best game as a Nugget. He compiled 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks while connecting on six-of-nine from the field. Denver was +30 with him on the court, and together with Kenneth Faried he helped outrebound the Lakers’ front line 30-19. Denver won that game in convincing fashion, handing the Lakers a 99-84 defeat.
Consistency has been McGee’s primary issue, however, and in Game 4 he wasn’t nearly as effective. He played 27 minutes, yet managed just eight points and four rebounds to go along with four blocks. It was a close game nonetheless, but Denver blew a couple of late plays and the Lakers pulled out a 92-88 win to go up 3-1 in the series.
Heading into Game 5, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Nuggets were finished. They got their home win, but going back to LA, where the Lakers are as unstoppable as any team in the NBA except San Antonio, the Nuggets were surely doomed.
McGee once again stepped up, scoring 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds – six of them on the offensive end – and the Nuggets were actually comfortably ahead for much of the game. Kobe Bryant caught fire at the end and nearly shot the Lakers into the second round, but huge plays by McGee and Andre Miller helped keep them at bay and preserve the most unlikely Denver win of the season.
Going into Game 6, the Nuggets have won two of the last three games and all but gave away the one they lost. They have as much momentum as a team that was down 1-3 can have, and it seems that if McGee can continue to dominate down low they have a fighting shot at winning this series.
It’s not usually wise to stand between Kobe Bryant and something he desperately wants, and he wants that sixth championship ring more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life. It’s going to be extremely tough for Denver to take the next two games from the Lakers, but impossible is nothing. Er, nothing is impossible.
If JaVale McGee can lead the Nuggets to two more wins in this series, he might not only find the second round for the first time in his career, he might also find a long-term home in Denver come free agency.
Sixers Pride Returning?
The first round series between the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers isn’t going exactly as expected, largely because injuries have consumed the Bulls. Still, the Sixers are looking to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03, and whatever the reason it has given basketball fans in Philly something to get excited about.
“It’s been great to be able to come back home in front of the Philly fans and the support we have had back in the city and getting back ahead in the series,” Spencer Hawes said in a recent interview with KJR Radio in Seattle. “It has been fun. We still got a lot of business left ahead of us to try to win this thing.”
If the Sixers are able to eliminate Chicago, there will be a big asterisk next to the story due to Derrick Rose’s injury, but as Hawes points out, that’s basketball.
“There’s no denying that losing him, he is a huge part of their team,” Hawes said. “It’s a huge blow, but at the same time that’s basketball. Every team has had to deal with injuries across the league, whether it is now or over the course of the season. That’s kind of the name of the game. You never know what quite to expect, but you try to make the most of the opportunity.”
The Bulls are known for their defense, and while that starts with Rose, the team was very good even without him for long stretches this season. Hawes credits the Sixers’ shooting with their success against Chicago.
“Just shooting the ball, really,” Hawes said. “The Bulls’ defense is so tough and they take away so much of what you try to do in getting to the rim and around the paint. We have to try to be able to shut them out a little bit and knock down the shots the defense offers us.”
Hawes has seen more minutes and been particularly effective in the last three games, scoring 21 and 22 points, then grabbing 14 rebounds, respectively. Hawes says his improvement comes largely as the result of gaining experience.
“I think it is just a process. When you are a young guy and you come into the league and a lot of things kind of come over your head and you are just trying to keep up. I think you get a little more experience and the game slows down and you simplify what you are trying to do and then results come after that,” Hawes said.
The Bulls aren’t quite out of it yet, but Hawes says the fans in Philadelphia are ready to celebrate a playoff series win, no matter the circumstance.
“Oh it’s been fun,” Hawes said. “Philadelphia is a basketball city. The fans have been waiting to embrace a team and embrace the 76ers again. Hopefully we can give them what they want to see. The brand of basketball we play with the unselfishness and the grittiness. I think the people back here can relate to that.”
So far, he’s right. The Sixers have been a disappointment for quite some time, even as expectations have, at times, been reasonably high. If they can push through to the second round it will be a significant event in Philly sports, something the fans have been dying to celebrate.
The Seventh Pick In the 2012 NBA Draft
If the NBA Draft Lottery goes as the odds say they should (which it rarely does), the Golden State Warriors should have the seventh overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Assuming they actually do land the seventh pick, which player best fits their needs?
HOOPSWORLD’s latest Mock Draft has HOOPSWORLD’s four mock drafters all selecting completely different players, so let’s take a look at their picks and see which would be the good fit in Oakland.
This summer’s draft class is filled with quality front court players, and while the Warriors have worked long and hard over the last few months to shore up their front line, the odds are strong that they will add yet another front court piece. Two of our experts had the Warriors taking traditional big men like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger or North Carolina’s John Henson. We also had a vote for Terrence Jones, but the seventh pick might be a little high for Jones, who is not currently projected to go top ten.
That brings us to Perry Jones, who might actually be the best pick for the Warriors. Keeping in mind that Golden State already has Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Andris Biedrins, and Jeremy Tyler on the front line and under contract for next season, the small forward position might make the most sense, given that there is not an elite two-guard in the offing.
Perry Jones is a solid prospect, and the more you watch him the more you start to think about Anthony Randolph. Not that we want to saddle him with the positive and negative connotations that come along with a Randolph comparison – especially for Warriors fans – but that’s where Jones seems to be. One key difference is demonstrated in the fact that Jones chose to return to college for one more year despite being projected as a lottery pick last year. That shows a self-awareness that could be the key to his success in the NBA.
There are questions about how driven Jones is to maximize his considerable potential. For all of his amazing physical gifts – quickness, size, feathery shooting touch, foot work – he was well shy of dominant for Baylor this season. He was at his absolute best when in transition, where he scored 55 points in 35 possessions and ranked in the 96th percentile amongst his peers. When Jones takes to the wing, the opposition is in trouble. When he’s not on the run, however, Jones struggles to score. His favorite place to be this season was in the post, where he got 27 percent of his possessions, yet he managed just 97 points on 122 possessions. He scores well out of the pick-and-roll (78th percentile) and on cuts to the basket (71st percentile), but when the game slows down and Jones has to create his own shot, he runs into trouble.
The Warriors are already an excellent transition team, ranking ninth in the NBA this season, so Jones would fit right in with some things the team is already doing. They were just average in post-up offense, ranking 15th in the league, so Jones’ ability to get into the paint and use his hook shot to score could help, as will the addition of Andrew Bogut. Jones can also help in pick-and-roll offense, where the Warriors were also an average team in 2011-12.
Defensively, Jones didn’t see a lot of different situations, with the vast majority of his time going against either post-ups or spot-ups, and his best success by far coming in those post-up situations. He ranked in the 75th percentile in defending the post, while managing just a meager 52nd percentile on spot-ups. In other words, Jones is not likely to be a defensive game-changer out of the gates, and is going to have to spend a great deal of time working on that part of his game. If the Warriors decide defense is something they desperately need to address with their lottery pick, defense could also be the reason they opt for someone else besides Jones.
He is certainly a very intriguing player otherwise.
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