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NBA Sunday: Gallinari, Nuggets Set For Bounce-Back Season

After two knee operations and missing the entire 2013-14 NBA season, Danilo Gallinari is set to return and help the Denver Nuggets fight for a Playoff run this upcoming season.

Jesse Blancarte



With Return Of Gallinari, Denver Nuggets Primed For Bounce-Back Season

On April 4, 2013, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. It was a tough blow for the Nuggets who won 55 regular season games and were one of the most potent offensive teams in the league in the 2012-13 season. Without Gallinari, the Nuggets fell to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the Playoffs in six games.

Gallinari initially underwent a procedure called the “healing response,” which was developed and performed by renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman. Dr. Steadman utilized this procedure, rather than a complete repair of the ACL, because Gallinari’s ACL was not completely ruptured, but severely compromised. The healing response is an “arthroscopic procedure (that) involves making three to 10 small ‘microfracture’ holes in the bone at the femoral origin of the injured ACL.” This creates a blood clot that should reattach the ligament to the bone. The upside to the procedure is a quicker recovery, while the downside is it only has a 77 percent success rate. Gallinari was not part of that 77 percent, and eventually required a complete ACL reconstruction on January 21, 2014, which cost him all of last season. Gallinari missing the entire season, along with a multitude of other injuries to his teammates, caused the Nuggets to miss the Playoffs, finishing with a 36-46 record.

Now, in an interview with Sportando, Gallinari says he is physically ready to play, and is preparing for his return this upcoming season.

“I feel great. I am ready to return seven months after my last knee surgery. I had a few contact practices in Milan,” Gallinari said. “Now I have to re-gain confidence and be ready. I will need to be patient because after more than a year without basketball you have to work also on the mental aspect. But I want to be a better player than before the injury.”

This statement echoes what Gallinari told Basketball Insiders at Adidas Eurocamp earlier this offseason regarding the benefits of rehabbing from the knee injury and becoming a better player.

“I think that I am much better because you have the chance to focus on other things on the basketball court and maybe when you are playing you don’t do that much, but I think that that part has always been in my nature, always been in my repertoire, so I’ve been feeling pretty good with that,” Gallinari said. “But you have the chance to improve in some part of the game, not just the game, but some part of the body that you didn’t work before. I had the chance to know the knees, both knees a little bit better, to work on the muscles that I didn’t even know that I had those muscles before, so you have the chance to know your body better.”

So, what does Gallinari potentially bring back to the Nuggets this upcoming season? When healthy, Gallinari is one of the most versatile forwards in the league; a good enough ball-handler to play the small forward position as a point forward, and big enough to play the power forward position as a stretch-four. In the 2012-13 NBA season, Gallinari averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shot 37.3 percent from three-point range in 71 games played. His ability to stretch the floor, run in transition, handle the ball and solid passing ability will be a huge addition to the Nuggets who run a fast-paced (ranked third in the league last season in pace), spread out offensive system.

Gallinari is especially important to the Nuggets as their other small forward, Wilson Chandler, has struggled with injuries throughout his career, only managing to play in eight, 43, and 62 games in the last three seasons. However, Chandler is another talented and versatile forward, who, when healthy, is able to stretch the floor, and play both forward positions at times. Having both Gallinari and Chandler play at a high level would be a big boost for a Denver team that relied heavily on Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, and Quincy Miller for production from the wing last season.

Along with Gallinari and Chandler, the Nuggets are bringing back Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson (recovering from ACL surgery), Timofey Mozgov, Randy Foye, Kenneth Faried, and Nate Robinson (also recovering from ACL surgery). McGee, Hickson, and Mozgov makeup a big part of the Nugget’s frontcourt, and will need to have a big year collectively. McGee missed all but five games last season because of a stress fracture in his leg that required season-ending surgery. McGee is one of the most athletic centers in the NBA, and at age 26, needs to make the jump from an occasional difference-maker to fulltime defensive anchor like DeAndre Jordan did for the Los Angeles Clippers. Hickson is another Nugget who is currently recovering from ACL surgery, but is set to be healthy by training camp. Hickson averaged 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his first season with the Nuggets, and could be a big part of a potential Nuggets Playoff run next season. And Mozgov will need to continue being a dependable option at center, especially if McGee or Hickson are at all limited, or miss time because of their injuries.

But as important as players like McGee, Hickson, or Mozgov are, the Nugget’s most important players are Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Lawson is one of the most underrated point guards in the league, and is the engine that runs the Nuggets offensive attack. Last season, Lawson averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 assists (tied for second in the league), 1.6 steals, and shot 35.6 percent from three-point range. Lawson, is one of the fastest players in the league, which makes Faried an ideal teammate at power forward as he is one of the best big men in the league in transition. Faried is having a very impressive summer with Team USA, earning high praise from head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who earlier this week called Faried “the biggest and best surprise (for Team USA) and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us.” Faried continues to rapidly improve, building off his strong second half of last season, and will be a big reason why the Nuggets will be in the Playoff mix this upcoming season.

In addition to the aforementioned returning players, the Nuggets are bringing in shooting guard Arron Afflalo for the second time after trading Evan Fournier and the rights to Roy Devyn Marble (56th pick in the 2014 Draft) to the Orlando Magic earlier this offseason. Afflalo is a big addition to this team as he is one of the most underrated two-guards in the league and is another player who can spread the floor and play in an up-tempo system. Last season, in 73 games played with Orlando, Afflalo averaged, 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and shot 42.7 percent from the three-point line. With top-level three point shooting, and solid defensive capabilities, Afflalo is a big pick up for the Nuggets, and a significant upgrade in the starting lineup over Foye from last season. Afflalo arguably should have been an Eastern Conference All-Star last season, and is looking to take that next step next season with the Nuggets.

A potential starting unit of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari, Faried and McGee is formidable, and is backed up by proven veterans like Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Hickson and Mozgov. This is a talented, and deep team that should be in the playoff picture next season, despite the fact that next season there could be up to twelve Western Conference teams who have a legitimate shot of making the Playoffs.

Health is always the great equalizer (as the Nuggets found out last season with roughly 170 combined games missed), but with (hopefully) a fully recovered Gallinari, a deep roster, and a year of experience playing under coach Shaw, the Nuggets should be in the Playoff mix next season.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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