NBA

Nuggets can't rely solely on Jokic and Murray – Porter

By Sports Desk September 10, 2020

The Denver Nuggets cannot rely solely on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray if they want to overcome the Los Angeles Clippers, says Michael Porter Jr.

Porter impressed for the Nuggets with 18 points in 23 minutes in Game 3 and looked set to build on that with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half of Game 4 on Wednesday.

However, the rookie was unable to add to his tally and missed his only two shots after half-time as the Nuggets fell to a 96-85 defeat that left them 3-1 down in the Western Conference semi-final series.

Porter said his failure to score in the second half was down to a lack of touches and wants Denver to share the ball more in order to become less predictable.

"That is up to the play calling, the coaches and whose hands they want to put the ball in," Porter said of his involvement in the second half.

"We kept going to [Jokic] and [Murray] and they are two amazing players, you can never be mad at that, but I just think to beat them we need to get more players involved.

"We have to move the ball a little bit better. We can't be predictable against that team."

Asked if he felt confident voicing those concerns despite being in his first year in the NBA, he said: "I think if I am going to be out there on the floor playing a lot of minutes, I think I should voice that.

"I will probably talk to the coaches and tell them what I see being out there on the floor just letting them know, look, they know what we are doing.

"We have to swing the ball. We have a lot of players that can play basketball and score, so we have to get some more guys involved."

The Nuggets came back to progress from 3-1 down against the Utah Jazz in the first round and coach Michael Malone believes his team have plenty of fight left in them.

"The same message will be what it was against Utah," said Malone.

"It wasn't that we have to come back and win three games. It was, let's win Game 5. And then after that, let's win one at a time. Let's win 6 and then win 7.

"We have done it. It is a different opponent. Very talented, deep team, but I think we do have confidence in being a resilient group and being a team that when everyone else has written us off, we have found a way."

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    A unique NBA postseason has thrown up an intriguing Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.

    With the coronavirus pandemic confining the league to a bubble in Orlando, Florida, there has been no home advantage and no shortage of shocks since the playoffs began last month.

    The Lakers - the top seed in the West - have managed to survive with their star power as Anthony Davis helped LeBron James to reach the Finals for a 10th time.

    In the East, meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Heat have also gone all the way, dumping out the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round.

    LA and Miami each dropped just three games en route to this series, which starts with Game 1 on Wednesday, but they have taken contrasting approaches to get here.

    Using Stats Perform Data, we take a look.
     

    Superstar Lakers

    The Lakers were not alone in headlining their roster with two massive names at the start of the season.

    As they traded for Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, rivals the Los Angeles Clippers put together a mammoth deal to pair Kawhi Leonard with Paul George. Russell Westbrook joined James Harden at the Houston Rockets.

    It would appear clear now the Lakers did the best business as they prepare for the Finals, having eliminated the Rockets in the conference semi-finals.

    Almost everything they have done has gone through James or Davis. Four-time MVP James has a 31.5 per cent usage rate in 35 minutes on the floor in this year's playoffs and is averaging almost a triple-double (26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists), while his team-mate has a 29.4 per cent usage rate in 35.9 minutes and 28.8 points per game.

    The Rockets rely even more heavily on their stars - Harden has 32.5 per cent of the ball in 37 minutes and Westbrook 31.3 per cent in 33 - but they do not have the same consistency. Against the Lakers, Westbrook shot four-of-15 from the field in Game 2 and four-of-13 in the decisive Game 5.

    The Clippers did not even advance to a highly anticipated meeting with the Lakers as George similarly struggled to set the standard, averaging 20.2 points.

    George's 10 points contributed to a Game 7 defeat to the Denver Nuggets, yet even their in-form pairing of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray could not match James and Davis, the league's outstanding duo.
     

    Deep Heat

    Miami will not look to put their own top performers up against James and Davis in the same way. It is the depth of this Heat team that saw them through the East.

    They remarkably have six regulars - Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson - averaging 11.0 points or more. Miami are the only team to reach the Finals with such a wealth of scoring options in the past 25 years.

    It should come as little surprise to see this production, though, as the Heat - in direct contrast to the Lakers - share the ball around. Of their nine players to make 10 or more playoff appearances this year, seven have a usage rate above 16 per cent. Six have played 27 minutes per game or more.

    That provides plenty of opportunity for the fourth or fifth man to steal the show, with Robinson top-scoring in a win against the Indiana Pacers while Herro poured in 37 points in a victory over the Boston Celtics.

    Herro's efforts saw him break Dwyane Wade's rookie franchise playoff record - set in a first-round 2004 game - by a whole 10 points. Wade was the team's leading scorer in that postseason; Herro is merely fourth this time.
     

    How they match up

    So, which approach will come out on top? Well, there are also drawbacks on both sides.

    Having bet the house on James and Davis - comfortably their top two earners - the Lakers lack an obvious third option to throw at Miami.

    Only Kyle Kuzma (10.5) is averaging more than 10.0 points in the playoffs elsewhere on the roster, while each of the eight players besides James and Davis to play at least 10 games this postseason have a usage rate between 12 and 20 per cent.

    Meanwhile, the Heat have the third largest total salary in the league this season, operating above the luxury tax level, but do not possess a superstar comparable to LA's pair to take the entire series by the scruff of the neck.

    Even Butler has a marginally lower points per game (20.9 to 20.7) and usage rate (27.3 per cent to 24.7) than team-mate Dragic. Neither man might at this stage be ranked alongside those big names in the West.

    They will need help from Adebayo, Herro and the rest, while Frank Vogel has to hope James and Davis alone have enough to secure silverware.

    Regardless of their flaws, the outcome of this matchup will validate more than a year's worth of work for one of these teams.

  • Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship

    Anthony Davis wants to finish a crazy year with victory in the NBA Finals as he hailed the resilience of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The Lakers and Miami Heat will go head-to-head in the Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort.

    It has been a difficult season for the Lakers, who mourned the death of legendary guard and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash in January.

    The top-seeded Lakers, like rival teams, have also dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league to be suspended in March before resuming inside the Orlando bubble in July.

    Preparing for his maiden Finals appearance in his first season with the Lakers following a blockbuster trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, All-Star Davis told reporters on Tuesday: "It's special.

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    "I think our team has been through the most this year, and we just kept on pushing, kept on fighting. With everything that's been going on, I kind of think the hiatus was actually good for us. It kind of just let us regroup because we had such a crazy year. The Lakers had such a crazy year.

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    "We've been resilient. And now we feel like it's our jobs to finish the season off the way we wanted to start it, the same way we wanted to start it. We're four wins away from that, and it seems like it's all just come full circle."

    It will be a reunion for LeBron James and the Heat in the Finals after the superstar won two championships in 2012 and 2013 during his time in Miami.

    James – who also celebrated glory with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 – has the chance to claim a fourth NBA title and Davis said: "He's a guy who obviously when he played against his former teams, he wants to win very bad, very badly, just like everyone else does.

    "But to be back in the Finals against Miami I think means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else. I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.

    "I think this one is going to be a tough one. People said it's going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances. But it's been fun to watch him. He goes to the Finals every year. Win or lose, he always comes back the next year. And to finally get back after last year and go against his former team, I'm pretty sure he's going to have a competitive series."

    Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also hailed James, adding: "He's the best leader I've ever been around, simplest way to put it, in terms of players. We've dealt with a lot, a lot of heavy emotional types of adversity that we've gone through, and he sets a great tone with his example.

    "But he is also a great leader from a communicative standpoint, talking to guys, talking to the group about the right mindset to have, to be in certain situations, being the leading voice when things occur where we're all not really sure how to deal with it or what to say. You know, he's been a leading voice in those situations. Just an integral part of our success this year."

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