1. Let's Stay Together? That's George Karl's Wish
DENVER -- In his self-described warped, paranoid, pipe dream of a world, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl maintains hope that this could all somehow work out.
He believes Carmelo Anthony can still find peace and happiness here -- at least for a few more weeks.
He thinks the Nuggets, now the healthiest they've been all season, have the pieces in place to rekindle some of the chemistry that carried them to the Western Conference finals just two seasons ago.
He envisions a scenario in which the trade negotiations and speculation that stormed the franchise this week would all melt away like the snow that disappeared Thursday under 50-degree temperatures in the Mile High City.
In other words, Karl still believes in miracles.
And why shouldn't he? This is the same coach who bravely beat prostate (2005) and throat cancer (2010) to resume his coaching career this season. On Thursday night, Karl's "just hang in there" message resulted in yet another triumph amid all the recent turmoil.
The Nuggets have pieced together their two biggest victories of the season after following up Tuesday's 34-point victory over the Phoenix Suns with Thursday's 130-102 shellacking of the LeBron James-less Miami Heat at the Pepsi Center.
It's probably much too late to reverse course on Carmelo's all-but-imminent departure in a trade to either the New Jersey Nets or his more preferred New York Knicks. But performances like the past two Karl got from his team has at least fostered hope of delaying the inevitable.
"I think the chances of this team being somewhat what it is [without trading Anthony in season] is probably just as much as the possibility of it not being the same," Karl said before the Nuggets handed the Heat their worst loss of the season. "That's my reality. That's my thought process. I don't like the drama and I'm no expert on the drama. For me, coaches are paranoid. Coaches get total tunnel vision with 'what ifs.' It's just best for me to stay strong, that somehow, some way this could be our team. And I still think we can be a very good team."
Denver's destruction of the Heat, who were without James because of a sprained ankle, only underscored Karl's message. It's a message Karl has delivered to his players and wants to clearly send to the Nuggets front-office team that's contemplating the fate of the franchise.
But the only assurances anyone is getting around here right now are the veiled ones coming from Anthony. He's day-to-day -- and not in an injured sort of way.
"I'll be here against Cleveland, too," Anthony said regarding his availability for Saturday's home game against the Cavaliers.
"I'll be in San Antonio on Sunday," Anthony volunteered about the Nuggets' trip to play the Spurs on the second night of the weekend back-to-back set.
But beyond that?
"Just keep asking me after every game, and I'll let you know," Anthony said.
Operating amid all of that uncertainty isn't an ideal way to mount a playoff push in the Western Conference, where the Nuggets (22-16) are seventh behind the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Thunder, Jazz and Hornets. But therein lies the conflicting paths the Nuggets are traveling on this season.
On one hand, Karl is riding the hope that this team might legitimately contend this season with Anthony and -- perhaps -- put off his departure until after the season, when Anthony could opt out of his contract and enter free agency.
On the other hand, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri must make the best deal they can to position the franchise for a stable transition in the post-Anthony era. And then there's Anthony's game plan. Caught in the crossfire is a team trying to build on the momentum of the moment despite the constant mood swings.
One option that might appease all sides would be for the Nuggets to play out the season with Melo, do the $65 million contract extension by June's closing window and then trade him on draft night.
"We're getting through it the best we can," guard Chauncey Billups said. "[We] go out, talk about the scouting report, come in and watch the film and try to stick to your regular routine. Any time, winning is always great. I've said this all year. Last game [Phoenix] was the first game that we all played together -- the first game all year. And I believe that. I do."
Billups said Anthony's teammates are beyond being distracted by the trade talk.
"I'm done talking about all that," Billups said. "It's nothing. It's regular. We don't talk to him more or less. It's been the same thing all year. We don't give it any extra energy, you know what I mean?"
Anthony doesn't buy it one bit. He knows the weight of his potential departure is weighing on this team -- even in the midst of the Nuggets' recent prosperity.
"I'm pretty sure they think about it," Anthony said. "If they tell you they don't, I'm pretty sure they'll be lying. We talk. We communicate. Whatever happens is going to happen. But as long as I'm here, I just want everybody to play and have fun."
And believe that anything's possible. That's what the coach is doing, at least.
Karl said he's already started the process of watching footage of forward Derrick Favors, the talented Nets rookie who would be the main piece Denver would acquire for trading Anthony.
But Karl's tone on the subject of change was shallow. His belief in this current team remains deep.
"I think there's a wind of 'What if we're all together?'" Karl said. "What if we become a really good team? And until that isn't in existence, I've got to keep the guys playing every game in that mentality. Get better, get smarter and do our job."
2. Mayo To Go?
Rumors flying about a possible O.J. Mayo trade are not new but this time there may be some teeth to them. One thing is certain: Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is openly involved in trade talks to move him. This is in stark contrast to last season when Heisley stated he never entered into serious discussions to trade Mayo to Golden State, despite the media rumors.
Mayo has played the good soldier in Memphis, publicly accepting with grace a bench role with the team. But his play on the court has been disappointing and there have been signs of behind-the-scene frustration, including a fight on a return flight from Los Angeles with Tony Allen, the current starter at shooting guard for the Grizzlies. If Mayo is seen as a greater distraction than asset then a trade would seem to be necessary.
Memphis is looking to make the playoffs this season, and it is apparent from comments in the media by Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins that the team isn't content with its present bench situation. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet are former high draft picks who are non-starters and who are owed more than $10 million in salary next season, cash that the Grizzlies may feel they need to use to re-sign Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as well.
If the Grizzlies do trade Mayo, it will likely be for players willing to come off the bench and produce consistently. Expiring contracts are likely to be involved as well. The team is not ready to concede a playoff run just yet but it is believed to be of higher importance that the Grizzlies free up financial room for the contracts of Gasol and Randolph. If the Grizzlies don't get expiring deals in trade then someone must come back to the team in trade with a legitimate 3-point shot and the ability to score in bunches.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's slate of NBA games in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Russell Westbrook, Thunder: His fourth career triple-double (32 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) helped the Thunder take a 125-124 win over the visiting Magic.
LeBron-less Heat: With the King nursing a rolled ankle, the Heat slouched to a second straight loss, losing by 28 to the Nuggets.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It's embarrassing that we're the only team left that hasn't won on the road."
-- Wizards rookie John Wall, whose team fell to 0-19 on the road with a 109-97 loss to the Wolves.
TODAY'S TOP 5 DUNKERS
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Phil's Grades
ESPN Los Angeles.com
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Friday's home game against the New Jersey Nets will mark the 41st game on the Los Angeles Lakers' 82-game regular-season schedule. On the eve of the occasion, head coach Phil Jackson doled out a midterm grade for his squad after the team's practice Thursday.
"We're definitely a B-team right now," Jackson said. "We have room for improvement. What I like about it is we've got their attention and they're starting to be attentive on defense and know that they've got an opportunity to be a really good team.
"The halfway point obviously says something about a team. We're not displeased with where we're at; we're unhappy we had some consecutive losses. We want to try to eliminate that over the course of the season. You'll have a bad game, maybe you might have another one, but you want to eliminate multiple losses in the season and we fell into that a couple times during the early part of this year."
Los Angeles already has one two-game losing streak, one three-game losing streak and one four-game losing streak this season. None of Jackson's 11 championship teams he coached lost four in a row during the regular season. However, the Lakers have currently won six games in a row and seven of eight since center Andrew Bynum returned to the starting lineup after rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. They have the second-best record in the Western Conference and trail the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs by 4.5 games.
7. Roar Of Thunder
8. Clipper Issue
Traianos (Slovenia): Assuming everybody stays healthy, are playoffs reality for the Los Angeles Clippers?
John Hollinger: Sure, if they play all their games at home. What you have to understand about the Clippers is that (A) they're 3-11 on the road, and (B) they have TWENTY-SEVEN road games left. Even if they go 14-13 in those 27 road games -- which would be a spectacular achievement -- the Clips would be at 37 losses for the season, and would have to be nearly perfect at home just to finish with a winning record. There's plenty to be encouraged about here, don't get me wrong, but they basically blew it playoff-wise before Christmas.
9. Love By Numbers
Kevin Love contributed 35 points and 11 rebounds to the Minnesota Timberwolves' 109-97 win over the Washington Wizards, connecting on five 3-point field goals along the way. It was the second time this season that Love has had a 35/10 game (points/rebounds) in which he made five 3-pointers. On Dec. 18, in a two-point loss at Denver, he finished with 43 points (including five 3s) and 17 rebounds. Only one other NBA player has had a 35/10 game with five 3s this season (Jason Richardson on Nov. 28), and over the past five NBA seasons only Kobe Bryant, in 2007-08, had two such games within a single season.