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Brooklyn Nets learn from ’embarrassing’ four-game skid, come from behind to beat Denver Nuggets

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The Brooklyn Nets ended their longest losing streak of the season, defeating the Denver Nuggets 125-119 in a come-from-behind win on Saturday night in Ball Arena.

The Nets trailed by as many as 21 points in Denver — making it their second-largest comeback of the season. Going into the game against the Nuggets, the Nets had dropped four straight games — losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in Brooklyn before dropping two in Milwaukee to the Bucks and then one to the Mavericks in Dallas.

“We were embarrassed the last few games,” Kyrie Irving said after the game. “When I say embarrassing, I mean just not playing up to our capabilities and teams are just coming out and doing whatever they want and feel good. Guys that are on the opposing team, supporting guys on the team are having huge nights sometimes — that’s when it gets embarrassing is when you’re not doing the little things for one another. Moving forward, we just learn from it.”

Brooklyn’s victory allowed the Nets to move a half-game in front of Milwaukee with four games to go in the race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference — and with it, home-court advantage in a potential East semifinal showdown between the two teams. Milwaukee, however, holds the tiebreaker, and both teams remain tied in the loss column.

Coach Steve Nash said that had the Nets lost on Saturday to the short-handed Nuggets, it would’ve “heightened the angst” for his team.

“I’m happy for us to be uncomfortable right now,” Nash said. “I’m happy for us to struggle and suffer. I’m glad we won, but suffering and building that resolve and that understanding and that we don’t have that common experience, so these experiences when we’re on the mat are good for us, and I think our guys responded tonight. But I’m also OK with us suffering and being uncomfortable.”

The Nets trailed by double digits at the end of the first quarter in Denver, and by halftime, they were down 71-56. It was the second-most first-half points the Nets have given up this season. In the second half, they allowed just 48 points.

“That second half was who we are and hopefully we build on it,” Kevin Durant said afterward.

The Nets have four games remaining to work through what Nash sees as discomfort and to solidify their playoff seeding. The Nets are hopeful they will get All-Star guard James Harden back before the end of the regular season and will have a few games to build chemistry as a more complete unit..

Still, Nash cautioned against seeing the win over the Nuggets — who were without starters Aaron Gordon and Will Barton, as well as reserves Paul Millsap and Monte Morris — as a permanent turning point.

“I wouldn’t make any grand delineations,” Nash said. “If we really wanted to respond to those four games, we maybe would have had a better start. I thought while we were frustrated as a group in the first half, we found that toughness and resolve in the second half and got it done, and we’ll just move on. There’s no guarantees you’re gonna win the next game.”

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Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton declines $14.7 million option, but both sides interested in new deal, sources say

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Denver Nuggets wing Will Barton has declined his $14.7 million player option for the 2021-2022 season and will become a free agent, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

There is a strong interest between the team and Barton to negotiate a new deal once free agency opens in August, sources said. Barton, whose seven seasons in Denver make him the longest-tenured Nugget, is a top priority for Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly to keep long-term.

Barton missed more than six weeks at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs with a hamstring injury. He returned for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns before the Nuggets were swept in that series.

He averaged 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game during the regular season. His deadline for a decision on his player option was Saturday.

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Washington Wizards hire Wes Unseld Jr. as new head coach

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Wes Unseld Jr. has agreed to a four-year contract to be the next head coach of the Washington Wizards, sources told ESPN.

The Wizards formally announced the hiring on Saturday. Unseld is expected to be introduced as the head coach in a news conference Monday.

Washington officials completed an agreement with the Denver Nuggets associate head coach and his agent, Brian Elfus, on Saturday on a long-term deal to replace Scott Brooks.

“Wes is one of the most highly-regarded assistant coaches in the NBA and clearly separated himself from the large and diverse group of candidates we considered,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in a statement. “His strong record as an in-game tactician along with his attention to detail on both sides of the ball combined with his reputation for player development and outstanding character during his 20-plus years of coaching left no doubt that he was the best choice to guide our team to the next level.”

Unseld was raised in the Wizards organization, working for 14 years in scouting and coaching roles before moving on to become one of the league’s rising star assistant coaches.

His return to Washington punctuates a remarkable homecoming. His late father, Wes Unseld Sr., is the most important figure in franchise history as a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player, coach and executive with Washington.

Unseld Jr. completed two days of interviews in Washington, D.C. on Friday, including with owner Ted Leonsis, and received an offer later in the day to become the franchise’s next head coach, sources said.

“I want to thank Tommy and Mr. Leonsis for the opportunity to lead this talented team both on and off the court and to continue moving the franchise in a positive direction,” Unseld Jr. said in a statement. “Becoming a head coach in the NBA is a goal that I have pursued my entire adult life and to have that dream realized by coming full circle back to Washington is truly special. I look forward to representing the DMV [Washington, D.C. metropolitan area], connecting with our fans and establishing a new standard for Wizards basketball.”

He will be the seventh Black head coach hired out of eight openings this offseason in the NBA. New Orleans is finalizing an agreement with Suns assistant Willie Green, and Portland (Chauncey Billups), Atlanta (Nate McMillan), Orlando (Jamahl Mosely), Boston (Ime Udoka) and Dallas (Jason Kidd) hired Black coaches. Four of them — including Unseld Jr., Mosely, Billups and Green — are former assistants getting first-time opportunities as head coaches.

Unseld Jr. spent the past six seasons with the Nuggets, where he played a part in one of the league’s most impressive constructions of a championship contender. He helped the franchise to significant improvement as the team’s defensive coordinator.

He replaces Brooks, who was let go after five seasons as head coach. The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference playoffs, losing in five games to No. 1 seed Philadelphia. The Wizards cornerstone star, Bradley Beal, has one year left on his contract. Before joining the Nuggets, Unseld Jr. had assistant coaching jobs with Golden State and Orlando. He was also a finalist for the Magic job that went to Mosley last week.

Wes Unseld Sr. died a year ago. He was the NBA’s MVP in 1969, and won the 1978 NBA Finals MVP in leading Washington to its only NBA championship.

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Thanasis Antetokounmpo enters NBA’s COVID-19 protocol, will miss Game 5 for Milwaukee Bucks

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PHOENIX — Milwaukee Bucks guard Thanasis Antetokounmpo entered the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols Saturday afternoon, and was listed as out for Game 5 of the NBA Finals Saturday night.

“I think the health and safety protocols are on the front of everybody’s minds right now,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think we’re in a good place and ready to go.”

Budenholzer later said the Bucks wouldn’t have a full staff available for Game 5, with sources telling ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews that assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer won’t be on the bench. It will be the third straight game he’s missed, sources told Wojnarowski and Andrews.

Meanwhile, the NBA announced a little more than an hour before tipoff referee Sean Wright would also miss the game after entering the league’s health and safety protocols.

Antetokounmpo, the older brother of two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, was not listed on the league’s 1:30pm injury report before appearing on the 5:30pm edition.

Antetokounmpo, who turns 29 Sunday, has played a total of 45 minutes across 13 playoff games. He played 93 seconds in Milwaukee’s Game 3 win, the lone time he’s played through the first four games of the NBA Finals.

Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals after he tested positive for COVID-19.

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