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Ball Don't Lie

Denver Nuggets’ laptop full of scouting data angers the Lakers, isn’t illegal, could be important

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The Denver Nuggets, fresh off a trip to mysynergysports.com. (AP)

The Los Angeles Lakers were mad at a lot of things following Tuesday night's Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets — dropping a closeout game on their home floor, giving new life to an opponent angered by a certain center's "arrogance," watching JaVale McGee torch their frontcourt and then chuck away his game ball like it ain't no thang, and having to go home and pack for another trip to Denver. (Although, as ESPN.com's J.A. Adande noted Tuesday night, it's supposed to be nice there, so that's a plus.)

One thing that angered the Lakers probably flew under the radar for the fans in the stands and the viewers at home, though — the fact that one Nuggets assistant reportedly made like "Get 'Em, Girl"-era Cam'ron during a critical late-game stoppage in play.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers were privately seething after seeing the Nuggets use a laptop computer in their huddle during a 20-second timeout with 19.9 seconds left to play.

The computer apparently belonged to an assistant coach sitting behind the bench with it. NBA rules forbid the use of such devices in the huddle, which won't change the final score but can carry a hefty fine of up to $250,000.

At that stage in the game, Denver was clinging to a 99-96 lead and in the midst of weathering a furious Laker comeback fueled by a stretch of hot shooting by L.A. star Kobe Bryant. Bryant had just missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer, which was rebounded by McGee, who was then fouled, triggering an out-of-bounds play on the near sideline. That's when Denver took the timeout in question.

The $250,000 fine would definitely be hefty, which explains why Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri reportedly "worked to clarify the mater with the NBA [Wednesday] morning," according to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. Ujiri probably could have just chilled out, though; NBA spokesman Tim Frank told Ball Don't Lie on Wednesday afternoon that what the Lakers accuse the Nuggets of doing is "not against the rules."

[Related: Pizza And Beer With Metta World Peace For Game 5]

"It is permissible to use a laptop or tablet (i.e., iPad) for the purposes of accessing, using or presenting statistical and scouting information to players and coaches during games," Frank told BDL in an email Wednesday. "This can include video or photographs of prior games."

Where the "hefty fine of up to $250,000" would come into play here remains unclear.

Karl said that, contrary to the report in the Times, Denver did not use a laptop on Tuesday night, but he did confirm to the Post's Dempsey that they keep one handy. What's on it could pay huge dividends in a situation like the one that reportedly angered the Lakers.

"We have all of their end-of-game plays on a laptop," Karl said. "Now, we didn't use it last night. But you're allowed to have a laptop, according to what our memo said. You're allowed to bring scouting preparation information on a laptop."

[...] According to Karl, a memo from the NBA stated teams can use laptops, and can have them on the bench, just as long as the material on it isn't taken from the game in-progress.

"It can't be of the game," Karl said. "Now, the memo I read was, yes you can have it on the bench. We looked at the memo again this morning and it says just as long as you don't have anything taken from during the game. And the only thing we have is their plays, end of game situations."

I'm not sure how many other NBA teams also give their sideline scouting reports this sort of contemporary technological boost — if you know of any others, drop 'em in the comments or hit me up on Twitter. But the jump from dead-tree to digital seems not only in step with the way that most of the rest of the world presently works, but also like a really smart idea in terms of simplifying access to information and expediting decision-making processes.

If you can not only have detailed breakdowns of every play an opponent has run in a late-game situation over the course of a season at your fingertips, but also have them all on video, readily available to show your defenders to give them a last-second picture they can keep in their minds before they take the floor ... I mean, that's got to be helpful, right? (Even if, when dealing with the Lakers, the play sheet is probably one item long and just reads, "KOBE JUMPER.") It would certainly dovetail with the forward-thinking approach adopted since taking over in Denver by second-year GM Ujiri, who's a regular at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

[Marc J. Spears: Andrew Bynum's 'arrogant statement' costs Lakers against Nuggets]

The Nuggets' sideline laptop also seems like a pretty significant step toward something I wrote about after last year's Sloan conference — the continued advance of data analytics, simulation and modeling not only in front-office decision-making or even game-planning, but in actual choices made on the sideline during games.

The movement toward analytics informing in-game decisions took a massive leap forward when Mark Cuban brought 82games.com founder Roland Beech into the fold for the Dallas Mavericks to work with coach Rick Carlisle; one wonders if the presence of this sort of cache of information on the sideline, available to and presumably being considered by a Hall of Fame coach in high-leverage situations during a playoff game could represent another jump in the near future.

There's obviously still a gap between the ability to condense reams of data on late-game tendencies into a few byte-sized morsels that can be called up on a computer screen and the likelihood that you'll convince hard-bitten veteran coaches to actually use the information. But if a respected lifer like Karl's open to it, and if it can help level the playing field for his relatively inexperienced team against more seasoned competition, then maybe the gap's not as wide as you'd think.

Hat-tip to Rant Sports.

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