Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Improved Nuggets face tough task in stacked division

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30 teams in 30 days: Improved Nuggets face tough task in stacked division

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Denver Nuggets.

A year ago the Denver Nuggets came oh-so-close to snapping a four-year playoff drought, finishing one game (40-42) behind Portland (41-41) for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

 
They bring back the core group from last season while adding Paul Millsap, a difference-making All-Star big man who can stretch the floor, score around the rim and defend at the highest levels.
 
Back in the playoffs right?
 
Maybe, but it’ll be tough going when you consider the Northwest Division should arguably be the toughest in the NBA when trying to get past a foursome of Utah, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Portland.
 
The Northwest Division is the only one in the NBA that consists of all five teams fielding rosters with legit playoff potential.
 
For Denver, what’s going to help them stand out from the rest is their frontcourt 1-2 punch of Millsap and big man Nikola Jokic, who has blossomed into one of the brightest young bigs in the NBA.
 
Last season, Jokic, 22, averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists which included the 6-foot-10 center racking up six triple-doubles.
 
For the Nuggets to build upon last season and take that next step which is getting to the playoffs, they’ll need better guard play this season.
 
Figuring out where Emmanuel Mudiay plays would help. The 6-5 guard is very much a tweener with great size and power but doesn’t seem to set up teammates for easy scores, which is what you want in a lead guard. Short of that, you want a guy who can score, which is part of Mudiay’s game but far from his greatest strength at this point.
 
In his two NBA seasons, the one thing Mudiay has shown is a desire to attack the rim and finish. He shot 50.5 percent from the field last season when his shots were within three feet of the rim. From 3-10 feet, that number dipped to 29.0 percent from the field. And from 10-16 and 16-plus but less than a 3-pointer, Mudiay was 26.2 percent and 32.7 percent.
 
Denver is also hoping for Gary Harris to continue growing as a solid two-way player, as well as second-year guard Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley.
 
Veterans Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will also factor in how far the Nuggets will go this season. Denver is clearly a better team than last season but that still may not be enough to get over the hump and back into the postseason for the first time since 2013.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Paul Millsap (Atlanta); Trey Lyles (Utah).
 
Key losses: Danilo Gallinari (Los Angeles Clippers).
 
Rookies of note: Tyler Lydon.
 
Expectations: 46-36 (Fourth in the Northwest Division, seventh in the West).


 

Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Win or lose, strong play or a night full of struggles, Jayson Tatum’s demeanor seldom changes for the Boston Celtics.

That alone makes him a rather unique rookie.

But then you see him play and have nights like the one he had against Memphis tonight, and you realize why this 19-year-old kid is so cool, calm and collected all the time.

There’s still a lot for him to learn about this league, but his talent, skill and feel for the game is uncanny which against the Grizzlies, helped Boston pull away in the fourth quarter for a 102-93 win.

Tatum had a near double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds with seven points in the fourth, but a deeper dive is required to fully appreciate what he meant to the Celtics on Saturday and what his true value is for this team this season.

“I was trying to be in attack mode, get what the defense was giving me,” Tatum said. “Just trying to bounce back from (Friday’s 107-95 loss to Utah).”

His scoring, rebounding, defense and overall impact was as good as we’ve seen from him this season, a radically different showing than Friday night’s 7-point performance which included him missing six of his seven shot attempts.

“He does a great job of having short-term memory,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Even in games, he might start a little slow and then he’ll pick it up. That’s a strength of his that’s very rare for a rookie. A lot of times, with rookies, when things don’t go their way, you can’t count on them. With him, it’s the opposite.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis.

 

STARS

Marc Gasol

The Grizzlies gave the Celtics all they could handle, and Gasol had a lot to do with it. He led all players with 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting.

Jayson Tatum

There were others who had more points than the 19-year-old, but Tatum was clutch when the Celtics really needed someone to step up. He finished with 19 points which included seven in the fourth quarter, along with grabbing nine rebounds to go with two blocks and two steals.

 

STUDS

Kyrie Irving

Once again, the Celtics’ scoring attack was led by Kyrie Irving who had a quiet 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting to go with six assists.

Al Horford

While his ability to facilitate remains a strength, Al Horford came up with some big shots in the second half as the Grizzlies tried to rally back into the game. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Daniel Theis

Playing with a broken nose and an off-the-shelf mask to protect it (he’ll get a fitted one soon), Theis had five points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes while playing good defense and providing some much-needed energy.

Tyreke Evans

The former rookie of the year has made an amazing transformation into a reliable 3-point shooter. That was just part of what was a really strong game from Tyreke Evans who had 25 points.  

 

DUDS

Celtics’ second-quarter play

For the second straight game, the Celtics were at their worst in the second quarter. Fortunately for them, it didn’t cost them the game as was the case on Friday night against Utah. The Celtics were fortunate to only be out-scored 28-17 which allowed them to maintain a 48-40 lead.

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Celtics hang on to beat Grizzlies 102-93 in rollercoaster game

Celtics hang on to beat Grizzlies 102-93 in rollercoaster game

The Boston Celtics finished Saturday’s game against Memphis similar to how it began – in control.

But it was the time in between that has to be of concern to Brad Stevens and the Celtics who came away with a 102-93 win.

While Boston (25-7) got the win, this was yet another game when the Celtics had long stretches in which they struggled at both ends of the floor.

But the key to this victory was a 16-0 run to start the fourth quarter that put the Grizzlies (9-21) in a hole that they were never able to climb out of.

Boston’s 1-2 punch of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were once again impressive for the Celtics, scoring 20 points and 15 points, respectively.

The Celtics also got a strong game from Jayson Tatum who had a near double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds.

Memphis (9-21) was led by Marc Gasol’s game-high 30 points. The Grizzlies also got a strong performance from Tyreke Evans who had 25 points.

Boston’s strong finish wasn’t all that different than how they began the game in the first quarter.

In the first, the Celtics looked like the team with the best record in the East playing one of the league’s worst teams, dominating play in every way imaginable.

Tatum had eight points in the quarter, which was more than he had the previous night when the Celtics lost 107-95 at home to the Utah Jazz.

The Celtics’ first-quarter lead peaked at 21 points before the quarter ended with Boston holding a commanding 31-12 lead.

Now the second quarter?

A totally different story.

Boston went from working over the Grizzlies, to just being plain woeful.

And the issue was obvious … Boston’s defense.

After treating the lane as a “Do Not Enter” zone for Memphis’ players in the first quarter, it was more like an EZ pass lane for the Grizzlies in the second with one lightly contested drive after another.

And when Boston began to plug that leak, Evans – a 42 percent 3-point shooter coming into the game – began to heat up to bring Memphis within 48-40 at the half.

But the second quarter was once again about as bad as you could imagine for the Celtics.

Memphis’ strong play in the second quarter continued early in the third with the Grizzlies making it a 53-all game following a jumper by Gasol as part of a 13-5 Memphis run.

However, the Celtics regained the lead moments later when Kyrie Irving found Aron Baynes open around the rim for a lay-up.

Gasol hit another jumper, with Irving coming back with a 3-pointer that put the Celtics back on top.

Yes, the 21-point lead that Boston opened the first quarter with was a thing of the past now.

The Celtics, led by Marcus Smart, went on a 9-0 run that gave Boston a 69-60 lead.

But the Grizzlies bounced back with a 10-0 run to take their first lead since it was 5-4.

The two went back and forth as the quarter ended with the Grizzlies ahead 73-71.

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