How Jamal Murray\'s ascension to stardom is keeping the Nuggets alive

Create: 2020-09-23
Update: 2020-09-23
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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Hello, Wednesday! And good morning to all, but especially to you Jamal Murray! What a treat it is to watch that guy play, huh? We'll discuss Murray and the Nuggets shortly, plus some NFL and MLB as we continue to cruise through the week together. Life just moves so much faster when we've got sports to obsess over, doesn't it?
On a personal side note, I've been attempting to get back in the gym after seven months of doing absolutely zero physical activity, and I tweaked something nasty yesterday (my third day back) and now I can barely turn my head/neck. I'll take that as a sign that it's my destiny to just stay at home and play video games all day.
I hope you're staying safe and sane as we say goodbye to the summer and transition into fall. With October creeping up, it may start getting spooky around these parts real soon but, until then, we've got plenty of sports to keep us busy. Let's take full advantage this morning.
📰 What you need to know
1. Nuggets rise to the occasion in Game 3 🏀
If you thought the Denver Nuggets would go down without a fight, well, you clearly haven't been watching these Nuggets too closely this postseason. The Nuggets may have lost to the Lakers in devastating fashion in Game 2 on Sunday to go down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals, but they were ready to bring it in Game 3 last night.
  • The Nuggets beat the Lakers114-106 to cut the series to 2-1
  • Denver held off a fourth quarter surge that saw Los Angeles outscore them 31-21
  • Jamal Murray was outstanding, scoring 28 points (including two late dagger 3-pointers) and adding 12 assists
  • Nikola Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Jerami Grant scored a career-high 26 points as well
By all accounts, it was a gutsy win from a Nuggets team that absolutely needed it last night. It may have sent a statement, but how much has truly changed with the outlook of the series as we head into Game 4 later this week? Well, our Bill Reiter seems to be buying into Denver's toughness and thinks they've got a real shot: 
  • Reiter: "The Lakers had no help for their superstars, outside Rajon Rondo, who, impressive though he has been, will not be enough. Murray is unfazed, clearly, and can be counted on with the weight of a season pressing down on his shoulders... a win in Game 4 means the Nuggets confidence coming off all they've accomplished this offseason could cascade and power them forward the rest of the way. The Lakers-surely-win worldview can be boiled down to something like this: LeBron James."
I know I said it when we met on Monday, but there's really only one plan of attack for Denver moving forward: They absolutely have to throw Game 4 in order to go down in the series 3-1. At that point, they have the Lakers exactly where they want them. Why fix what isn't broken?
Also, who's trying to turn down more games of Murray at this point? As our Brad Botkin wrote last night, his ascension this postseason has been Steph Curry-like and it's been incredible to watch.
2. Week 3 Power Rankings & picks 🏈
The body of NFL's Week 2 is barely cold yet but it's already time for us to turn our attention to Week 3. We've got a new slate of games kicking off tomorrow so today's a good day to get our bearings and evaluate where we're at after two weeks. Luckily, we've got some help.
Pete Prisco released his latest power rankings yesterday and, if you know anything about Prisco, you know he's not afraid to make some bold declarations -- even when he's only got a two-week sample size to work with. In this week's rankings, Prisco is fully buying into Josh Allen's Bills as legitimate Super Bowl contenders:
  • Prisco: "Allen's quick start has the Bills looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, something I expected this season. They are now up to fifth in my Power Rankings this week and they are alone in first place in the AFC East. If you don't believe in the Bills this season, you are misguided. In addition to Allen, they have a talented defense, playmakers on offense and a coach in Sean McDermott who will be in play as a Coach of the Year candidate."
Yep, Buffalo slid into Prisco's top five this week but the biggest movers were the Raiders, who jumped up nine spots to No. 10 after their impressive Monday night showing. (Conversely, the Saints dropped eight spots to No. 11 following that debacle.) 
In addition to the rankings, our John Breech has picks for this week, and you may find some of them surprising. Here's a few of his spicier ones:
  • The Chiefs just barely edge the Ravens, 37-34
  • The Rams upset the favored (and undefeated) Bills in Buffalo
  • Lock of the week: Patriots beat the 2-0 Raiders by double-digit points
You can find the rest of Breech's picks and analysis right here and, in case there was any doubt, his record this season proves you should listen to what he has to say. He went 13-3 in his picks last week (12-4 against the spread) and is 3-0 on his locks this season. 
3. Billy Donovan takes over Bulls 🏀
Welp, Billy Donovan wasn't out of work long, huh? The Chicago Bulls continue to overhaul the leadership of their organization and it was announced yesterday that Donovan will be the team's next head coach. The hiring comes just weeks after Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder mutually parted ways.
Our Sam Quinn says it's a bit surprising that Donovan ended up with the Bulls considering his decision to leave the Thunder reportedly had a lot to do with the fact they're likely heading into a rebuild and, uh, well... the Bulls have been in rebuild mode for a little while now. 
  • Quinn: "The Bulls have plenty of young talent in Coby White, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, but are picking No. 4 overall in the upcoming NBA Draft and should struggle to reach the postseason quickly in a crowded Eastern Conference. While the Bulls are further along with it, they are still in the middle of a rebuild, but Chicago still managed to convince Donovan to take the job despite the potentially lean years ahead."
On the other hand, our James Herbert believes Donovan may see a diamond in the rough in Chicago. He seems to have some confidence that the coach will get the most out of a young, talented roster:
  • Herbert: "Even if the Bulls bring back a largely similar roster, though, there are reasons to believe that they can take a step forward. When their season stopped in March, Coby White, last year's No. 7 pick, was in the middle of a scoring binge, perhaps having improved more than anyone in his class over the course of five months. Donovan proved this season that he can adapt to his personnel, overseeing a Thunder team that not only exceeded expectations but played a completely different style than previous iterations -- and turned an unconventional, three-point-guard unit into the best lineup in the league."
So, are we buying the Bulls as a team capable of taking a big step under the right leadership? And do we think Donovan is the right man for the job? Luckily for the new guy, Jim Boylen set the bar pretty low.
4. The most important MLB series this week ⚾
It's the final week of MLB's shortened regular season and, as we discussed yesterday, there's plenty of potential chaos waiting to happen. Thanks to the compressed schedule and an expanded 16-team postseason, a lot is at stake over the course of this final week. 
With that in mind, Dayn Perry is here to highlight the most important series that could help finalize the playoff picture this week:
  • Brewers at Reds: Milwaukee, Cincinatti and San San Francisco are all jockeying for the final two playoff spots in the National League and, if they end up tied at week's end, the tiebreaker will be decided by 1) head-to-head record 2) intradivision record or record in the final 20 divisional games
  • Brewers at Cardinals: Those tiebreakers methods I just mentioned? That makes the five-game series the Brewers and Cardinals will play later this week pretty crucial
  • Padres at Giants: The Giants are also going to have a big series later this week when they play four against the Padres. San Diego may not have much to play for, so that could help San Francisco 
Perry has a few more series for you to keep an eye on and he does a masterful job laying out what exactly could be at stake, so feel free to take notes, kick back and enjoy the circus. Next week, the show really starts.
📝 Odds & Ends
  • Following Saquon Barkley's injury, Devonta Freeman took less money to sign with the Giants and could play in Week 3
  • Adam Silver says his "best guess" is that the next NBA season won't start until January 2021
  • Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas beat Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose at the Payne's Valley Cup exhibition match
📺 What to watch tonight
⚾ Brewers vs. Reds, 6:40 p.m. | CIN -153 | TV: MLB.tv
🏒 Lightning vs. Stars, 8 p.m. | DAL +140 | TV: NBCSN
🏀 Celtics vs. Heat,  8:30 p.m. | MIA +3 | TV: ESPN
📝 Top scores from last night
🏀 Nuggets 114, Lakers 106 
The Nuggets held a 20-point lead before the Lakers went on a 19-2 run in the fourth quarter, but Denver held on thanks to some big shots from Jamal Murray (28 points, 12 assists). 
💵 Winning wagers: DEN +214, Over (214.5)
Indians 5, White Sox 4 (Final/10)
Jose Ramirez smacked a three-run homer with two outs in the 10th inning to give Cleveland the 5-3 win and a postseason berth.
💵 Winning wagers: CLE -127, Under (9.5)
Nationals 8, Phillies 7
Yadiel Hernandez, a 32-year-old rookie, hit a game-winning, two-run home run in the seventh inning off Brandon Workman for the win. The loss dropped the Phillies out of the playoff picture for now, as they are on the outside of the second NL Wild Card spot.
 
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