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Malone: Like Lakers, we’ll talk to NBA about fouls

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After watching LeBron James go to the line 14 times and seeing Jamal Murray hit the floor a few times without a whistle late in Game 4, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said his team might do what the Los Angeles Lakers did and reach out to the NBA about fouls.

“They went to the foul line 35 times,” the Nuggets coach said after the Lakers took a 3-1 lead over Denver with a 114-108 win. “I think I’m going to have to go through the proper channels like they did to see if we can figure out how we can get some more free throws.”

Malone was referencing what Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on Wednesday when asked about James’ 10 total trips to the free throw line in the previous three games of the Western Conference Finals. Vogel said the Lakers “were dealing with the fouls through the proper channels with the league.”

On Thursday, James made 11 of 14 from the line and finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Anthony Davis made 13 of 14 free throws and scored 34 points. The superstar duo’s 24 combined free throws made was more than Denver’s 23 overall trips to the line.

Asked if the Lakers’ tactic of going to the league about foul calls worked, Malone said he didn’t know.

“I just know they went 35 [times] and we went 23,” Malone said. “I think late in the game Jamal Murray attacked the basket a few times where it appeared to be contact. We’ll watch the film and send our clips in. We’ll reach out to the NBA and kind of make our points noted. Whether them going through the proper channels affected tonight or not, I have no idea. The NBA does a great job of listening. You hope that next game maybe some of those fouls are called.”

Murray scored 32 points, 10 coming in the fourth. He also went to the line four times in the final quarter but felt he should have had more free throws. He missed on two driving layups in the last 3:46 when the Nuggets trailed by four and three points, respectively.

“Respectfully, obviously, they’re trying to do their job,” Murray said when asked what kind of feedback he got back from the officials. “I mean, I did get fouled on a few. We could see the replay clearly. The same thing when [Utah’s] Rudy Gobert fouled me when we lost Game 4 [in the first round]… My team shows respect any time you talk to them.”

“LeBron is going to go get his,” Murray added. “But we just have to look ahead and play through it. … We’re a young team. We’re the younger team, youngest team, whatever we are. Look at where we’re at. We’re going to have to earn their respect if we’re going to want to prevail.”

After Game 1, in which the Lakers went to the line 24 times in the second quarter during a 126-114 win over Denver, Murray said, “They want to talk about every call and have full conversations and try to manipulate what happens” and that the younger Nuggets know the deal.

As he was in Game 1, Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble and had five fouls in Game 4. But Malone says fouls were not what decided Thursday night’s game; it was the Lakers’ 25 second-chance points. Dwight Howard, who was inserted into the starting lineup, had six offensive rebounds, and Rajon Rondo had two. Those were as impactful as anything in this game.

“That was the reason we lost this game,” Malone said. “Most disappointing was it happened from the jump ball. I thought Dwight Howard in that first half had a tremendous impact on the game.”

“Possessions where we played really good defense,” Malone added. “And just didn’t finish it, which gave them extra possessions, extra life, extra opportunities. The ability to defend without fouling.”

Now, the Nuggets find themselves in what was actually their sweet spot in the first and second rounds. They’re down 3-1 again, a hole that they overcame to beat both the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers.

Malone and the Nuggets will need another monster game from Murray. And they hope the guard will get some favorable calls in Game 5 as well.

“I played him I think the last three games, including tonight, 45, 44, 43,” Malone said. “I’m running the poor kid into the ground. When I take him out, things seem to go sideways in a hurry. He’s gotten the best of everybody. He’s had last series [Patrick] Beverley, Kawhi [Leonard], Paul George. He’s getting Danny Green, [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, [Alex] Caruso and now LeBron. That’s the ultimate sign of respect.

“Again, I thought late he had a couple really aggressive drives to the basket. I’ll have to look at the film. I thought there was contact. Wasn’t called. That happens. But I think in those situations, also have to understand he’s attracting so much pressure and a crowd, he has to look to make a play for somebody else and get off of it. I know he’s able to do that because he’s shown that he can.”

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Bucs adding Antonio Brown all about maximizing Tom Brady’s window

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TAMPA, Fla. — Nearly seven months to the day after Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said “it’s not gonna happen” with Antonio Brown, the Bucs have agreed to a deal with the controversial, but highly talented wide receiver who last played for Arians in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It wasn’t coach-speak, Arians is a straight-shooter. He called Brown “too much of a diva” and said he wasn’t a fit for the Bucs’ locker room, even with quarterback Tom Brady campaigning for him behind closed doors. But that was before injuries began to mount in the Bucs’ receiving corps.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans has been hobbled by an ankle injury since Week 4 and has barely been able to practice. Their other Pro Bowl receiver, Chris Godwin, has missed three games because of concussion and a hamstring strain. Their speedy deep threat Scotty Miller has been hampered by a hip/groin injury. And tight end O.J. Howard — who had become a big part of the screen game — went to injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles.

The result? Brady’s top receiver against the Chicago Bears was rookie Tyler Johnson, who he’d never completed a pass to prior to Week 5. And if the Bucs want to not only make the postseason but make a run at a Super Bowl with Brady, they realize that their window is tight and, they need reinforcements at a position that’s been hit hard by injuries.

It’s the same reason they signed A.Q. Shipley as a backup center, so that if something happened to Ryan Jensen, Brady could take snaps from an experienced center. It’s the same reason they signed running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy — to ensure Brady had experienced running backs to pair with Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn — who could help in the passing game.

So how will Arians handle Brown, whom he’s publicly traded barbs with, had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints that included a camera crew entourage that infuriated members of the Saints coaching staff, once cursed out former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and arrived to Oakland Raiders camp in a hot air balloon.

The feeling inside the organization is Arians personality is strong enough to handle him. Arians has never had a problem giving anyone a piece of his mind — as seen by his expletive-filled tirades in practice — and he coached Brown with the Steelers. Brown also has ties to several members of Arians’ coaching staff, like offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El, who was his teammate in 2010.

But the person who can make the biggest impact in all, and who can hold Brown in check, is Brady, whom Brown developed an immediate connection with in New England. In their one and only game together with the Patriots, Brown had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 win over the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots released Brown less than two weeks after signing him.

Brady has had success keeping troubled teammates in check when others have failed, examples include including LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Aqib Talib. But Brown’s off-the-field issues are serious — two cases where he was accused of sexual misconduct and a felony charge of battery and burglary. He will need to be held in check at all times.

This move signifies just how much influence Brady has on this organization. Brown’s personality is in contrast to Evans, Godwin, Miller, Johnson, Justin Watson, Jaydon Mickens and Cyril Grayson — players who don’t complain when the ball doesn’t get thrown their way.

Brown won’t be eligible to play until Week 9, but it’s an important rematch against the Saints, whom they have a half-game lead on in the NFC South but lost to in Week 1.

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Will A Runoff In Georgia Decide Control Of The Senate? And Other Listener Questions.

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In this installment of Model Talk on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, editor-in-chief Nate Silver talks to Galen Druke about why state-level and national polls are showing different degrees of competitiveness. They also answer more listener questions.

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Riley ready to run it back with similar Heat team

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MIAMI — Pat Riley is always looking for ways for the Miami Heat to improve. This offseason has him wondering if that might come from within.

The Heat president on Friday said that the top offseason priority for the Eastern Conference champions “is to take care of the players that we have” — such as free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic — while maintaining salary cap flexibility to add an impact player in a 2021 offseason that could see many stars on the move.

“We have a good idea of what we want to do,” Riley said in his annual end-of-season media availability.

No plan can be considered completely firm yet; the NBA’s board of governors were meeting Friday, simultaneous to Riley speaking, to discuss ideas about when it might be feasible to start next season. And the financial details for next season remain unclear as well, such as salary-cap changes and luxury-tax numbers. All that will have an obvious impact on every team’s plans, Miami’s included.

But Miami is already clear on some matters: The Heat have no intention on letting extension-eligible All-Star center Bam Adebayo leave, and Riley said keeping this past season’s team as close to intact as possible has crossed his mind.

Kelly Olynyk has a player option for about $12 million, while Meyers Leonard, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr. are among the Heat’s free agents.

“We know what our priorities are,” Riley said. “It is to take care of the players that we have, that we have to make decisions on almost immediately. We know Bam has a decision to make and we do with him. We know the guys that have sacrificed for us that we really like, our free agents, especially Goran.”

The Heat might have ended up as the surprise of the league this season, with All-NBA player Jimmy Butler‘s arrival leading a turnaround that saw Miami go from missing the 2019 NBA playoffs to winding up in this season’s finals as a No. 5 seed. Riley raved about what Butler has brought to the Heat, and also lauded coach Erik Spoelstra for doing what he called a masterful job this season.

“Spo was the coach of the year, for me,” Riley said.

The Heat have long been expected to be a major player in the 2021 free-agent season, when names like two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and many others could potentially choose to hit the market.

What they do in this offseason will obviously affect their spending power next year.

“I just think we need to remain fluid,” Riley said. “Once we get all the numbers and we get everything down, we get the schedule, we know when the dates are, and what the rules are in everything, once we get all of that, we’re going to remain fluid. And whatever presents itself to us, we’ll look at it.”

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