Western Notes: Nuggets, Motiejunas, Mavs, Lakers

The race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference is wide open, but the Nuggets were unable to grain ground on Tuesday night, losing their third straight game. Tuesday’s loss was particularly frustrating since it came at home against the Kings, the team ahead of Denver for that eighth seed in the West. In the wake of Denver’s defeat, Michael Malone was critical of his team’s performance and effort, telling reporters that the Nuggets have “the worst defense in the NBA.”

“Right now we have no leadership, we have no veteran leadership on this team stepping up,” said the Nuggets head coach, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. “I don’t hear anybody speaking, taking the lead. We have two young guys trying to speak up on the team’s behalf, which you applaud them but you need some leadership to shine and step up when we are struggling, which we are.”

One person who didn’t agree with Malone’s assessment? Danilo Gallinari, who took exception to the idea that the Nuggets lack veteran leadership. “That’s definitely not the problem with this team,” Gallinari said, according to Dempsey. “Every veteran on this team can agree with me. So, I don’t agree with that.”

The Nuggets have frequently been mentioned as one of the teams most likely to make a move before the trade deadline, so the situation in Denver will be worth monitoring in the coming weeks. Let’s round up a few more notes from out of the Western Conference…

  • After signing on Tuesday with the Pelicans, Donatas Motiejunas confirmed today that he has been medically cleared by the team (Twitter link via Scott Kushner of The Advocate). Head coach Alvin Gentry indicated that he expects Motiejunas to play primarily at center in New Orleans (Twitter link via Kushner).
  • The Mavericks have a pair of players on non-guaranteed contracts, but Dorian Finney-Smith is safe, and Pierre Jackson looks like a good bet to stick on the roster past the salary guarantee deadline as well, writes Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. The Mavs like what they’ve seen from Jackson so far, so the only reason to cut him would be to maintain roster flexibility going forward.
  • In Larry Nance’s absence, the Lakers have explored using Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black on the floor at the same time, and are intrigued by the pairing, per Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News. Both Robinson and Black signed new contracts with Los Angeles during the offseason.
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