Watch out Lakers? Nuggets on a roll and becoming trendy pick to advance to NBA Finals

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Larry Starks, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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For a while now, the storyline surrounding the Denver Nuggets was that they needed a third wheel to complement versatile center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray.

When the Nuggets drafted Michael Porter Jr. in 2018, the thinking was that he could eventually become that player. Porter could have been the No. 1 pick in that draft but dropped to the Nuggets at No. 14 because of injury concerns. And since he’s been in the lineup, he’s shown only flashes of what the Nuggets had hoped for.

But whatever happens with Porter, the Nuggets have to be giddy about what Aaron Gordon can add.

Since trading for Gordon at the NBA trade deadline, the Nuggets have won all four of their games in which he has played. They have climbed to No. 4 in the Western Conference after a rough start to the season. But more than that, the Nuggets have shown the kind of depth that could make them an intriguing playoff team.

Gordon’s measurable numbers since the trade are nice enough: 14.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 64% shooting from the field over 29.8 minutes. But it’s what he gives them on the defensive end that has the Nuggets riding high.

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“(Gordon) put everybody back in their place where now I can guard my natural position at the two, instead of going into a lot of games undersized at the three,” Will Barton told reporters last week. “He takes a lot of pressure off us guarding the bigger threes, and now we can switch seamlessly.”

Gordon said, “Defensively, we’re nice. (We’ve) got guys that can switch, guys that can guard 1-4, 1-5.”

With Jokic continuing to play like a leading MVP candidate, Murray playing like a superstar-in-waiting, Porter showing improvement in help-side defense and Gordon bringing so much versatility to the mix, the Nuggets will become a trendy pick to advance to their first NBA Finals.

Kevin Durant’s return possible on Monday vs. Knicks

The Kevin Durant Countdown officially starts on Monday. The Nets will play the Knicks Monday night in Brooklyn, and it is possible Durant will make his return to the lineup.

Nets coach Steve Nash has said Durant will return to the Nets’ lineup this week and there is an “outside chance" Durant could return against the Knicks.

“I am not certain on Monday. I think that’s an outside possibility,” Nash said. “But I also couldn’t say, like, he’s in any stretch probable for Monday. I think it’s just wait and see. But it does look positive that this week sometime there’s a high probability he can return.”

Durant has missed 22 consecutive games with a hamstring injury that was significantly more serious than first thought. He has not played since sustaining the injury in his Feb. 13 return to San Francisco.

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Vucevic finally delivers some magic to Bulls

The Chicago Bulls accelerated their push to the postseason when they acquired for Nikola Vucevic in a trade deadline day deal with the Orlando Magic. But the Bulls have struggled for various reasons since the trade, threatening to fall out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Vucevic helped them out of their slump on Sunday, scoring 22 points and adding 13 rebounds as the Bulls snapped a six-game losing skid with a 115-107 win over the short-handed Brooklyn Nets.

“We understand it's going to take some time, and we've had some guys out of the lineup,” said Vucevic, who has played five games with the Bulls.

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For the most part, the Bulls did a complete makeover at the trade deadline, getting five new players. So the win over the Nets showcased the progress they’re making in learning to play with each other.

“Stylistically, we’ve completely changed the way we played in a week’s period,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “And that takes time.”

A not so golden time for Warriors

When watching the Warriors over the past two seasons, it’s hard not to think back to the start of the 2018-19 season, when they went through the roughest stretch of their dynasty run.

After losing a third consecutive game to drop to 12-6 to start that season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters, “This is the real NBA. We haven't been in the real NBA the last few years. We've been in this dream. And so now we're faced real adversity and we got to get out of it ourselves.”

Ah, those were the good old days.

The Warriors continued their freefall, dropping a 117-111 decision to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. The Warriors lost 130-77 to the Toronto Raptors on Friday, the largest margin of defeat in the NBA this season. For the record, the Warriors have dropped 12 of their past 16 games.

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The Warriors were once 19-15 and tied for sixth in the conference with Portland. They’ve gone 4-12 since. Stephen Curry has still not fully recovered from his tailbone injury. Rookie Joel Wiseman is playing like … well, a rookie. And Draymond Green is certainly not the Draymond Green of three seasons ago.

“We all had higher expectations for where we were supposed to be this season,” Curry told reporters on Sunday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers beware? Nuggets becoming trendy pick to advance to NBA Finals