NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Jokic can lead Nuggets to NBA title - Lillard

By Sports Desk June 04, 2021

Damian Lillard believes Nikola Jokic can lead the Denver Nuggets to NBA glory after they eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.

Jokic scored 36 points, provided six assists and grabbed eight rebounds as the Nuggets secured a 126-115 victory in Game 6 to win the series 4-2.

Trail Blazers star Lillard thinks the Nuggets can go all the way with Jokic at his brilliant best.

Lillard said of the Serbia center: "He's everything for them. I think if it was any year a guy like him, what he does for that team, could lead his team to a championship, it would be this year because of how open it is.

"There's no favourite. In my eyes at least, I feel like anybody can get beat and anybody can go get it done.

"That's why it's even more disappointing for me because I felt like if there's any year you can shoulder the load and go get one, it was this one. I definitely think he's capable of it."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone also lavished praise on Jokic.

He said: "That's why he's the clear-cut MVP, because you can take anybody away from our team, if we have Nikola, you could put me, Wes Unseld, Ryan Bowen, Charles Klask, whoever you want out there, we're going to find a way to compete because that's how great he is."

Malone says the Nuggets are aiming high after advancing from the first round of the playoffs.

"I just told our team this, hell of a win to come in here and win a Game 6 on the road is great. But we're not satisfied," said Malone. 

"Our goal coming into the season was not to get out of the first round. We have much bigger goals."

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  • Tokyo Olympics: Luka Doncic 'dominating the Games like no player in 30 years' Tokyo Olympics: Luka Doncic 'dominating the Games like no player in 30 years'

    Luka Doncic is breaking new ground with his performances for Slovenia at the Olympic Games, according to Japan coach Julio Lamas.

    Slovenia have two wins from two in Pool C, with Doncic dominating against both Argentina and, on Thursday, hosts Japan.

    The Dallas Mavericks superstar had 48 points on his Games debut and added 25 more in the 116-81 defeat of Japan, as well as seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and two steals.

    These performances follow on from another outstanding NBA season, in which Doncic scored 27.7 points per game in the regular season – sixth-most in the league – and improved further in the playoffs.

    Doncic's only two postseason series to date have been defeats to the Los Angeles Clippers, but he has now averaged 33.5 points in 13 games – no player in the history of the NBA has scored more per game in 13 career playoff games or more.

    The 22-year-old's immense talent has translated superbly to the international stage, too, with Lamas describing Slovenia as "a very complete team with one amazing player". They have won all 15 games he has played for his country in all competitions.

    "Doncic is one of the best four or five players in the world right now, even in the NBA," Lamas said.

    "But he plays very comfortable in FIBA with the spaces and the rules – he dominates, too. Some other NBA players feel uncomfortable sometimes in FIBA. He is not.

    "It's not easy to have a plan [against Doncic] because he is excellent in all the game situations. He can score driving, shooting or post-up and he creates the game for all the other players.

    "I don't see in the last 30 years one player dominate the game like he has in this tournament.

    "It's not nice [to face Doncic]. When you lose, you're never happy. But I think it's a good experience to play one time against him. I will remember."

    Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez, the last man to attempt to halt Doncic, described him as "the best player in the world", and his Slovenia team-mates agreed after another show of strength.

    "He's our leader," said Jaka Blazic. "For me, he's the best player at the Olympics and also in the world. We just follow him, everybody knows his role and that's important in a winning team."

    Zoran Dragic, who played with Doncic's father Sasa for Slovan, added: "It's crazy, because when I was playing I was playing with his father, too, he was like six, seven years old, and now he's one of the best players in the world.

    "I'm happy that I can witness and play with him. He's such an awesome guy and, especially, it's so easy to play with him because he is just an unbelievable person and basketball player. We can be all happy that he's Slovenian."

  • Golden State Warriors: Dubs must build for one more run with Curry & Co. Golden State Warriors: Dubs must build for one more run with Curry & Co.

    The Golden State Warriors' 2020-21 season ended in heartbreaking fashion, but you might not know that reading head coach Steve Kerr's most recent comments.

    Golden State rode an MVP calibre season from Stephen Curry to eighth spot in the Western Conference and a place in the play-in tournament.

    Yet that was where it all fell apart.

    They missed out on the seventh seed as a miracle LeBron James three-pointer helped the Los Angeles Lakers to a dramatic victory, and the Warriors were then outplayed by the Memphis Grizzlies in the final play-in game to ensure they would be watching the postseason from home.

    Despite that bitter end, Kerr was left extremely encouraged after seeing his team win 16 of their last 22 regular-season games despite playing a second successive season without Curry's backcourt running mate Klay Thompson, who suffered a torn Achilles before the campaign.

    "I'm really excited. I feel like we got our mojo back at the end of the year," Kerr told The Athletic. 

    "The offseason has been productive in terms of Klay now breaking through. He's on the court, he's running, he's feeling really good. I talked to him last week. He's just in a completely different mindset. The light's at the end of the tunnel.

    "Steph and Draymond [Green] are both in a great place after that close to the season, feeling like they are on top of their games. Andrew [Wiggins] had a really good season for us. Jordan Poole emerged. Juan [Toscano-Anderson] has turned himself into a rotation player, perfect for our style.

    "Now we get a training camp with James [Wiseman], a whole season of development, plus [picks] seven and 14 in a deep draft."

    However, Kerr's excitement for the new season being vindicated hinges on what they do with those picks and how they stack the roster to help the core of Curry, Thompson and Green contend for at least one more championship.

    Use those prime draft selections and continue to develop Wiseman with a view to building sustainable long-term success, or trade the picks and young assets for another star? It's truly a case of evolution or revolution for the Warriors this offseason and, with Kerr in Japan with Team USA, he won't be in the building to influence the final call.

    Curry cooks up a storm

    Curry's was a season that merited more than the five first-place votes he received in the MVP race.

    His points per game average of 32 was the highest of his career, topping the 30.1 ppg he produced in 2015-16 when Curry was named unanimous MVP and the Warriors broke the single-season wins record by going 73-9.

    Per 100 possessions, Curry's ppg of 32.1 was second only to Joel Embiid (32.9) as he continued to embellish his resume as the greatest shooter of all time.

    Curry's 5.3 three-pointers made per game was a league record, the 2020-21 season his third in which he averaged at least 5.0. He remains the only player to achieve the feat even once.

    He had seven games with 40 plus points and at least 10 threes last season. No other player has registered more than three such performances in their career.

    Becoming the first player to post three 50-point games in a season aged 32 or older and producing a scoring average that was the highest by a player of that age in league history, Curry is clearly showing no signs of slowing down.

    Still, his usage rate of 34.8 per cent is probably not sustainable for the long term, but if the Warriors are to allow Curry more rest in 2021-22, they must solve the problem of what happens when he comes off the floor.

    A damaging drop-off

    The most dramatic illustration of the Warriors' struggles without Curry came back in April. With Curry and Green each on the sideline, they were thrashed 130-77 by the Toronto Raptors.

    The 53-point reverse was the second-largest defeat in franchise history, though it can be argued it was a necessary low point for Golden State. The Warriors subsequently lost to the Atlanta Hawks before embarking on that 16-6 surge.

    And the numbers from across the season paint a telling picture of Curry's importance to the Warriors' cause.

    With him on the court, the Warriors scored 112.8 points per 100 possessions, compared to 101.9 when he was off the floor, while their effective field goal percentage dropped from 57.1 to 51.6.

    The Warriors effectively lost 8.8 points per 100 possessions when Curry was absent. Their point differential was plus-4.3 with him on the court compared to minus-4.5 when he played the role of spectator.

    Ensuring that disparity is not as severe in 2021-22 will be a key focus of the Warriors' offseason, yet there were still some encouraging performances from those not named Curry to build hope that Golden State can contend to go deep into the postseason again.

    Andrew Wiggins set career-highs in field goal percentage (47.7) and three-point shooting (38 per cent) while Jordan Poole established himself as a productive option off the bench, shooting 42.2 per cent over those final 22 games.

    Perhaps the best find of the season was Bay Area native Juan Toscano-Anderson who, having been signed to a two-way contract in December, saw that converted to a full-time deal in May.

    Toscano-Anderson was seventh in effective field goal percentage (66.7) and eighth in true shooting percentage (67.6), deservedly earning a spot in the frontcourt rotation. Yet, for all the positives that emerged as the Warriors got hot late in the campaign, their ability to take a step towards vying for the title may be contingent on what they decide to do with last year's most high-profile addition.

    The Wiseman conundrum

    The Warriors have the capital to stack the deck in Curry's favour with the addition of either seasoned pros or promising prospects. They were one of the winners of the NBA lottery as the top-three protected pick the Minnesota Timberwolves sent them in the Wiggins-D'Angelo Russell trade became the seventh selection in this year's draft.

    That gives them the flexibility to pursue a trade for more experienced help, but whether they go down that avenue depends on what the Warriors elect to do with Wiseman, whom they took second overall in 2020 despite him having only three games of collegiate experience.

    And they were not granted a full season's evidence to aid their decision about the 20-year-old center as a meniscus injury brought his rookie campaign to a premature end.

    There were signs that Wiseman could blossom into the athletic big man who can make a difference at both ends, with center long since a position of concern for the Warriors even at the height of their dynasty.

    He posted double figures in points in 24 of his 39 games but a net rating of minus 10.1 spoke to a player who still needs time to acclimatise to the challenge of playing at the highest level.

    That is no surprise given Wiseman's inexperience, and Kerr is hopeful he will make strides with the chance to get a full offseason under his belt, however, with the front office reportedly exploring trade options, will the Warriors have the patience to stick with him with potentially more immediate contributors available?

    Golden State would surely have to include Wiseman in any potential blockbuster trade, with the Warriors mentioned as a potential destination for Oakland native Damian Lillard, the increasingly maligned Ben Simmons and Raptors star Pascal Siakam

    Bradley Beal, whom Curry beat to the scoring title, is reportedly viewed as the Warriors' top option in a trade, but there have as yet been no signs that any deal is on the horizon.

    After another year with no postseason play, Golden State's big three will want the talent around them to improve in a hurry but, if the Warriors do not identify a player whom they deem worthy of a price that includes Wiseman, they may need to be patient in awaiting the dividends a player of his obvious physical gifts can deliver.

    Verdict: Evolution

    The Warriors are the team to watch in the draft as reports of trade discussions continue to swirl.

    Despite being flush with capital, it is appearing more and more likely that if they do send some of their resources to a rival, it will not be as part of a trade that changes the complexion of the league.

    Instead, the more feasible outcome is that the Warriors do a deal to supplement the core that initially shook up the NBA in 2015 by jump-shooting their way to the title, rather than reshaping it with the addition of another star.

    Myles Turner is said to have been the subject between the talks between the Warriors and the Indiana Pacers, and his arrival would give the Warriors a difference-making big on both ends of the floor.

    Turner missed the final 18 games of last season with a sprained toe but still led the NBA with a block percentage of 8.8 and was seventh among centers that played a minimum of 25 games with an average of 1.5 made threes.

    In the draft, the reported urging from Curry, Thompson and Green for the organisation to get players who can help them now may force the Warriors to target more experienced rookies having gone young with Wiseman last year.

    Oregon guard Chris Duarte is 24 and was named to the Pac-12's All-Defensive Team last season while finishing third in the conference with a field goal percentage of 53.2.

    Davion Mitchell turns 23 in September and led the Big 12 in three-point shooting, converting on 44.7 per cent of his efforts from beyond the arc, and James Bouknight of UConn is thought to be in the mix as a younger shot-creator who was second in the Big East in 2020-21 with 23.7 points per 40 minutes.

    The Warriors' front office is seemingly facing external and internal pressure to utilise their draft capital to land a premier player who can propel them back to the top of the Western Conference and firmly open the window for Curry, Thompson and Green to polish their resumes further.

    Yet a team led by a player who has spent his Hall of Fame career redefining limits with his remarkable shooting range may find their trade possibilities restricted, and Curry and Warriors fans alike might have to reconcile themselves with an offseason that only slightly improves Golden State's odds of winning now but sets them up to stay relevant once his days of carrying their hopes are in the past.

  • Tokyo Olympics: Hashimoto's gymnastic heroics keep Japan top of medal table Tokyo Olympics: Hashimoto's gymnastic heroics keep Japan top of medal table

    Japan remained top of the medal table at the Tokyo Olympics as they collected another three golds on day five.

    Daiki Hashimoto, 19, was the standout performer as he secured a last-minute win in the men's all-around gymnastic final, with China's Ruoteng Xiao and the Russian Olympic Committee's pre-event favourite Nikita Nagornyy settling for silver and bronze.

    That win took the host nation to 13 golds, with Chizuru Arai in the women's 70kg judo – their eighth medal in the sport at the Games so far – and Yui Ohashi in the women's 200m individual medley the other victors.

    China pulled one clear of the United States as they also collected three golds on Wednesday. Shi Zhiyong broke his own world record to win the men's weightlifting 73kg event, while Wang Zongyuan and Xie Siyi brought China's third diving gold at the Games with victory in the men's synchronised 3m springboard final.

    The USA had to settle for silver in China's diving win, though they did pick up gold in the debut 3-on-3 women's basketball event by defeating the Russian Olympic Committee.

    Katie Ledecky and Erica Sullivan captured an American one-two in the women's 1500m freestyle meaning only Michael Phelps (13) has more individual Olympic success than Ledecky.

    The Russian Olympic Committee remain fourth despite not winning gold on a frustrating day that saw them finish runners-up in both 3x3 basketball events and the men's 4x200m freestyle relay.

    Australia enjoyed a memorable day in rowing as they battled to back-to-back golds in both the male and female coxless four, with Ariane Titmus setting a Games record in the women's 200m freestyle to move the Australians up to six golds.

    Due to Australia's success on the water, Great Britain's dominant five-gold run in the men's coxless four that stretched back to Sydney 2000 came to an end, though they did collect a first silver medal in men's quad sculls.

    Tom Dean, who won gold on Tuesday, was part of the men's 4x200m freestyle team that picked up Team GB's only gold of the day as they moved down to sixth place.

     

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