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NBA Daily: Fixing the Denver Nuggets

Following a surprisingly successful postseason run, the Nuggets are off to a relatively slow start. Drew Maresca examines what’s going on in Denver in the latest edition of Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series.

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The Denver Nuggets have been on the rise for a while, but it all came together for them last season. If they weren’t already on your radar, a postseason that included two come-from-behind series wins should guarantee that they are now.

The Nuggets finished the 2019-20 season with a record of 46-27 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Along the way, Nikola Jokic proved that he’s one of the best players in the league, while they also received a significant boost from the rising star Jamal Murray, who scored 30 or more points in six of the team’s 19 postseasons games. Michael Porter Jr. also proved his back is just fine after a serious pre-draft injury and that he’s a real threat in the NBA. So what’s there to fix?

Well, the Nuggets are off to an uninspiring start. They are currently 6-6, good for just seventh in the Western Conference. While they’re supremely talented, they must get back on track – otherwise, the team could be in for a long 2020-21 offseason.

What’s Working

Denver’s offense is still effective. Entering play last night, they were scoring 116.5 points per game, good for fifth in the NBA. They draw a lot of fouls, too – 22.3 per game to be exact – which is tied for first in the entire league. So, that’s a start.

Jokic, meanwhile, is still Jokic. He’s playing better than ever and has legitimately entered the MVP conversation. As of last night, he was averaging a triple-double with 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. He’s also shooting an insane 41.2% on three-point attempts and 82.1% from the charity stripe.

Porter Jr., who has missed the last seven games with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, began the season on a tear. He showed flashes last season, but he’s done it with consistency so far this season. Porter Jr. is averaging 19.5 points on 42.3% shooting from deep – and he was really hooping in his last game, scoring 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds.

JaMychal Green is another bright spot that has done a lot to help replace Jerami Grant, who was lost to free agency. He came over from the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent and he’s fit in very nicely. Green began the season on the bench due to an injury and, in the four games for which he was out, the Nuggets went 1-3 and gave up 120 or more points in three of those four games. Since Denver has surrendered only 109 points per game, which would be good for the 11th fewest in the NBA. He’s also shot the ball incredibly well (52.8% on three-point attempts), while his presence means that the Nuggets won’t have to rely as heavily on 35-year-old Paul Millsap. The hope is, if Green can stay on the court, the defense will continue to even out.

What’s Not Working

A number of things aren’t working right now for Denver. First and foremost, the Nuggets haven’t put forth a complete effort too often. For example, they built up an 18-point lead in the first half against the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week in which they scored 70 points. They went on to only score 46 in the second half and lost the game 122-116.

On a related note, Denver has also failed to close out tight games. Of their six losses, four were within three points or went to overtime.

Then there are the high-level defensive issues. Entering play last night, the Nuggets had the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league and were allowing opponents to shoot 39% on three-point attempts – also good for sixth-worst. Worse, all of that has been done while playing the fourth easiest schedule in the league.

Drilling down to individual player issues, Murray’s struggles haven’t helped. Yes, his numbers are alright, but 19.7 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds is a bit underwhelming considering the performance he put on in the bubble last season. His shooting is down slightly, most notably from between 3-10 feet from the basket (36.8%), and he’s struggled a bit from the free-throw line, too (76.3%, down from 88.1%).

What Needs To Change

First of all, the Nuggets need time to acclimate to one another; the team added seven new players this offseason and when you consider the shortened training camp and limited preseason – which was really only one week long – that leaves little time to build synergy. Theoretically, that should improve with time.

Porter Jr.’s defense is another aspect that must change. He is regularly Denver’s soft spot in the defense because he either loses focus or takes defensive shortcuts. The upside, Porter Jr. is still just a sophomore and his defensive should improve with time – he certainly has the requisite skills needed to be a successful defender (e.g., length and athleticism). So let’s give him a little more time before we make any bold claims about him.

Finally, the Nuggets have to find a way to deploy Bol Bol. Bol is averaging just 6 minutes per game. Sure, he’s incredibly lean and might not match up well in the half court with most bigs. Additionally, he’s a bit hesitant to shoot, despite a solid range. But, while the Nuggets are clearly in win-now mode, what contender couldn’t use a 7’2” shooter with a 7’8” wingspan? If they get Bol a bit more burn and he can mature, it would give the Nuggets one of the most unique weapons in the entire league. And, to Denver’s credit, Bol did receive the first two start of his young career in back-to-back games this week — perhaps that change is already underway.

The Nuggets may have started slowly, but all should be well in Denver. The Western Conference is incredibly competitive, but the Nuggets have more talent than most and, assuming finishing the season is realistic given COVID-19’s impact on it already, the Nuggets should be comfortable with where they are, regardless of their early-season record.

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2021 Tokyo Olympics: USA vs. Iran – Men’s Basketball Preview, Prediction, & Odds

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Team USA is coming off their first Olympics’ loss in men’s basketball since 2004. In the post-game press conference after USA lost 89-79 against France, head coach Greg Popovich said, “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.” Leading up to this matchup, another contributing factor for the team’s loss was Wizards‘ guard Bradley Beal bowing out of the Olympics after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols during training camp. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Beal averaged 31.3 points per game. Regarding the injury report, as of July 27th, there are no reported injuries for these two teams.

Moreover, the USA’s second men’s basketball game of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is schedule for Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST). Unfortunately, the next two USA men’s basketball games are not guaranteed to air live on television in the United States. However, the games can be watched on NBC channels (delayed) and NBC’s exclusive streaming service known as Peacock. Plus, the NBC Sports mobile app will stream the games live. Free trials are also available for Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now. The game can also be watched via NBA League Pass. For betting on medal and group winners for men’s basketball, Bovada offers the best service.

Game Details

Date & Time: Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC (delayed)

Spread: USA -41.5 (-110) (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Over/Under: 166.5

Best Moneyline: USA -8000, Iran +2500 (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Team USA Starting Lineup:

PG: Damian Lillard 

SG: Zach LaVine 

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: Draymond Green

C: Bam Adebayo 

Team Iran Starting Lineup:

PG: Mohammad Jamshidi

SG: Behnam Yakhchali

SF: Arsalan Kazemi

PF: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami

C: Hamed Haddadi

Bovada and MyBookie are two available betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. With MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the USA vs. Iran matchup, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is another option as well.

USA vs. Iran Preview

Referencing Bovada’s Olympics odds, Team USA is the favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, with odds showing -250. Slovenia and Australia are tied for second, possessing +800 odds. With odds showing +75000, Iran ranks 12th for odds to win the gold medal. They could still win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball, but this team appears to be different from previous USA men’s basketball teams. Their performance against the French was pitiful. Anyways, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, this past Sunday, USA opened as 12.5-point favorites versus Iran. However, yesterday the oddsmakers changed their projection to 29.5-point favorites. As of Tuesday, July 27, DraftKings Sportsbook has USA listed as 41.5-point favorites over Iran.

Team USA’s starting lineup in the Olympics consisted of Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bam Adebayo. In the team’s 89-79 loss against France, with a total of 29 points, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell led the team in scoring. However, Mitchell’s performance was not sufficient enough to carry the team. His teammates around him failed to contribute at a higher level. In 25 minutes played, Kemba Walker closed out his performance with 10 points and three rebounds. Marcus Smart also scored 11 points and made two assists. For the winning team, the leading scorer for France was Evan Fournier, finishing his game with 22 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

While the turnovers and field goal percentages were identical between these two teams, the difference-makers were personal fouls and free throw shooting percentage. France shot 21-for-25 (84 percent) from the free throw line, whereas USA shot 14-for-21 (66.7 percent). Additionally, France committed 17 fouls in the match, which was all right considering USA had a total of 24 personal fouls called against them. Despite small forward Kevin Durant scoring 10 points, he also fouled out of the game. This was another poor game plan by Coach Popovich. This was especially evident in the team’s consecutive losses against Australia and Nigeria during those exhibition games. Practice games or not, USA looked less than mediocre, never mind lethargic and disinterested.

Then again, Iran is also trying to recover from an 84-78 loss versus Czech Republic. Guard Behnam Yakhchali led the team on the stat sheet, ending his performance with 23 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 36 minutes played. In 29 minutes on the court, Mohammad Jamshidi had 16 points, one rebound, and seven assists. For the Czech Republic, with 16 points, Patrik Auda led his team in points. While the Czechs out-rebounded the Iranians 43 to 33, they also had fewer turnovers. The winning team had 15 turnovers, while Iran had 21 overall.

The team came close to erasing a 21-point deficit. Iran’s past starting lineup was Benam Yakhchali, Mohammad Jamshidi, Samad Bahrami, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Haddadi. Though, this is subject to change. The projected starting lineup is listed in the game details section shown above. Yakhchali will once again be returning as a guard, and of course, he led the team in scoring against the Czech Republic. 

Prediction: USA wins by 15+ points

Team USA is nearly a 42-point favorite against Iran. Based on their previous 89-79 defeat versus France, it is certainly hard to believe this team will beat a team by 40 points. Many bettors were not expecting for Durant to foul out, either. After their 10-point loss, Bovada adjusted the odds of USA winning their group. Now, France has the favored -550 odds of winning Group A, whereas USA has +400 odds. Though, between USA and Iran right now, the Americans are obviously the best of the worst. All things considered, USA will likely have their first bounce-back victory, but the question right now is, how many points will they win by?

Some bettors are speculating a 12-point margin of victory, however, others are suggesting 23 points. A prediction of at least 15 points sounds reasonable. Why? It’s because Iran’s men’s basketball team has lost multiple games already. In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Round (2019) for Group F, Japan defeated Iran 70-56. Then, Spain defeated Iran 73-65 later in the year. Iran losing 84-78 versus the Czech Republic just adds to this notable trend. Nevertheless, while some could say that Iran is due for their first win, so is the USA. The Americans have not lost multiple games since 2004. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the USA lost 92-73 versus Puerto Rico, 94-90 against Lithuania, and 89-81 versus Argentina. Time will tell if the Americans can turn over a new leaf.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards

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This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.

In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”

In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”

Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.

Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.

After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. According to one report by NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Beal was irked over the organization hiring Wes Unseld Jr. over Sam Cassell for the vacant head coach position. How much does this play into trade talks?

Well, we all know that Beal is a competitive player, so three consecutive losing seasons by Washington might not be cutting it for him. Then again, a great player should be willing to give a new coach a chance. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.

On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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