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).


 

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions on the Celtics getting their first win of the season and a comparison between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving in the 4th quarter.

7:17 - Phil Perry joins BST to break down the tale of the tape between the Falcons and the Patriots as he breaks down the quarterbacks, offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles between the two teams.

11:57 - Our crew on BST discuss number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and number 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum going up against each other and debate who seems like the better pick so far. 

16:35 - In this segment of Irrelevant Questions, Tom Curran interviews Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett as he asks him a bunch of random questions. 

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Larkin rises to occasion, says he's ready when Celtics call his number

Larkin rises to occasion, says he's ready when Celtics call his number

PHILADELPHIA – Near the end of a preseason game against Charlotte, Boston Celtics guard Shane Larkin was killin’ the Hornets with pick-and-roll action.

It was a preseason game that at the time, didn’t seem to have much value other than to get some of the end-of-the-bench guys a little run up and down the court.

But as it turned out, Larkin's play in that game was one of those things head coach Brad Stevens tucked away, knowing at some point he would count on Larkin to provide similar play in a regular season game.

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Well, that game was Friday night at Philadelphia, a game in which several players for Boston stepped their games up in helping the Celtics get their first win of the season, 102-92.

But you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger game-changer for the Celtics in this game, than Larkin.

He finished with 10 points off the bench, eight of which came in the decisive fourth quarter when the Celtics rallied from five-down to get a hard-fought, much-needed victory.

“You have to always be ready for your name to be called, especially when you have injuries,” Larkin said. “You never know whose night it’s gonna be.”

Boston was playing without Marcus Smart who suffered a left ankle sprain in their 108-100 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Smart was in the starting lineup having replaced Gordon Hayward who underwent left ankle surgery and is expected to be out for the remainder of this season.

“When coach (Stevens) called my name, I had to go out there and be aggressive, play my game,” Larkin said. “And it worked in our favor.”

And while Stevens had watched Larkin play prior to the Celtics signing him this summer, it was a preseason game against Charlotte that really convinced him that the 5-foot-11 guard could help when called upon.

“You’re always watching,” Stevens said. “And if you remember that exhibition game, he finished out that Charlotte game, just running simple spread pick-and-rolls. He’s such a handful with his speed and quickness, and he allows other guys to play off of him. He’s a small guy, but he makes up for it with his speed and skill.”

Al Horford benefited more than any other Celtic with Larkin’s pick-and-roll play which factored into Horford scoring nine of his 17 points in the fourth.

“Shane is a player who understands the game and for us, it was me trying to set a good screen for him and having him make a play,” Horford said. “He just made the right reads, when to shoot it, when to pass it. He just looked very comfortable in that position.”

And to think that Larkin’s big game came about in part because of how well he performed in a preseason matchup against the Hornets.

“I did not know it was that specific game,” Larkin said. “But whenever I step on the court I try to do my best. That’s offensively, defensively, and do what the team needs me to do.

Larkin added, “Whenever my number is called, if he (Stevens) calls it again, I hope he does. I’ll be ready to go out there and do it again.”

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