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Trump health officials prepare to distribute coronavirus vaccine within 24 hours of OK from FDA How big are Krogers online grocery sales now? Bigger than Levi Strauss or Harley-Davidson The Denver Nuggets, led by the genius of Nikola Jokic, have dispatched a superteam

With less than a minute left against the Los Angeles Clippers, Nikola Jokic enjoyed the fruits of his methodical conquest.

He dished a no-look, over-the-head pass under the basket to Jamal Murray, his partner-in-crime, that resulted in a shooting foul. Denver was up 20 by this point in a historic Game 7.

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Denver had completed a 3-1 comeback for the second series in a row. This time, they shocked the world by knocking out the vaunted Clippers, playing joyfully as though they had nothing to lose, and riding their eccentric whip-smart style as far as it could take them.

The biggest story of this series was Jokic, a court-shifting, game-deciding superstar like the NBA has never seen before. He took over in Game 7, producing one of the most impressive and unorthodox single-game performances we’ve seen in a long time.

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As a center, already the consensus best passing big man ever, he was the floor general for the Nuggets. He oversaw everything, vastly outperforming Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the players who are supposed to oversee things.

He did all of this while scoring 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting. We’ve never seen anything like this. Jokic, 7’0″, 253 pounds, frequently dribbled the ball up the court like a point guard, pushing the Nuggets on the break and painting the court with all-seeing vision. His playmaking assertiveness can be rivaled only by another floor general who thrives on vision, like LeBron James or Chris Paul. It’s hard to process that we’ve just seen a center, a seven-footer who does not move gracefully, control the game in a fashion similar to James and Paul, who are both essentially point guards.

Jokic’s decision-making is so pristine that it has become his defining skillset, the element of his game that drove his domination of the Clippers’ star-studded defense. It wasn’t his savvy post moves or his pick-and-pop threes that took out the Clippers here. Instead, his ability to make the best out of every situation flummoxed his opponent. No five players on the court, even the Clippers’ cast of All-Defense first-teamers, could muster the combined brain power to outfox Jokic at his assertive Game 7 peak.

Only LeBron could have moved the chess pieces around the court in the way Jokic did. This is where Denver’s supporting cast comes in, especially Murray, whose ridiculous shotmaking and exuberant confidence pushed the Nuggets to the finish line. Everyone around Jokic knows who they’re playing with, and knows exactly how to contribute. The cuts, the drives, and the shooting are all there. They know to look for passes.

The pick-and-roll dance between Murray and Jokic is more fun to watch than any in the league. Its success rate is not one hundred percent, but it looks purposeful every time. There is no aimless movement. It has ideas. Both players look like they have a perception of how an NBA offense should work every possession. They problem-solve on the fly, adjusting their hand-offs to counter defensive strategies and creating new reads.

The players around it fit seamlessly. Jerami Grant moves around the three-point arc as a willing shooter, and finds incisive cuts into defenses that guard the long-ball. Gary Harris, Monte Morris, and Paul Millsap are all heady players who fill the right gaps and can do things with the ball. Harris and Morris can create their own shots, a skill that is particularly effective when Jokic or Murray drives and kicks.

None of it can work if the surrounding players don’t have full confidence that Jokic sees all. When they make a cut or take a few steps along the three-point arc, they know to look for the ball. Jokic connects on passes that only LeBron could reasonably find, and he’s incredibly accurate. He doesn’t force shooters to catch balls on a hop, and he hits cutters in stride.

The Clippers have numerous high-caliber defenders. Despite this, the Nuggets were able to find shots at the rim and draw fouls through little cuts and tight dish passes. Jokic rendered good defenders irrelevant. Someone like Patrick Beverley, an elite stopper who does not take possessions off, could stick close to Murray only to concede a bucket because a Jokic pass was so well-timed that Beverley had no realistic chance to disrupt it.

The control this ability gives Jokic is massive. Double-teaming him in order to get the ball out of his hands requires precise timing. Jeff Van Gundy brought up one opinion on the ESPN broadcast, from Gregg Popovich: double-teaming Jokic is only possible if Jokic doesn’t expect it. Such is the respect for his passing.

Finding those double-team opportunities is not easy, not least because Jokic has an exceptional understanding of what’s going on at all times. The Clippers did not have the defensive cohesiveness or collective understanding to execute such a plan.

Jokic ran essentially every possession that he was on the floor. (He played 39 minutes, sitting more than expected due to foul trouble.) He’s one of the most effective screen-setters in the league, understanding every time whether to dive to the rim, pop to the arc, or call for a pass immediately to exploit an unstructured defense. His hands are improved, making it hard to strip him. His post-moves are savvy, and he has made tough shots from everywhere on the floor in these playoffs, forcing defenders to honor him.

An offense based around a player like Jokic seems like it shouldn’t work to this extent in the playoffs. One would think that a Game 7 scoring performance like this from the offensive centerpiece (38 percent from the field? 0-4 from 3?) would mean elimination. Jokic instead dominated every other section of the game, though he still incinerated Montrezl Harrell as he did for most of the series. He finished with 13 assists (13!) and 22 rebounds.

He made the right decision every time he had the ball, and in this game, that meant he didn’t have to score all the time. Some of those missed shots were desperation attempts late in the shot clock, not assertive attempts at the rim. He excised fadeaway mid rangers in favor of pinpoint passes, often after a screen dance with Murray or punishing post moves to force help.

Rivers tried putting other players on him, a ploy he should’ve gone to earlier in the series. Often, it was JaMychal Green, and sometimes it was Leonard or George. Nothing worked. Jokic knew what to do every time. The Nuggets were a glorious, whirring offense for much of the game, with everything orbiting around their Serbian star. They weren’t quite the 2014 Spurs, but they played with a decisiveness that can only come from familiarity. The Clippers couldn’t match it on either end.

Jokic’s performance was so complete that the game became a blowout. His 22 rebounds were not empty calories. He was out-fighting and boxing out the Clippers to prevent second-chance opportunities. He wanted the ball every time it clanged off the rim so he could get a fastbreak started. We didn’t see any of his patented outlet passes in this game, but there were multiple instances in which he quickly found a teammate running up the floor or traversed the court himself. Those opportunities gave Denver easy points and created mismatches.

On defense, Jokic was no liability. He has looked like a big weakness on that end at times during this insane Nuggets playoff rollercoaster, but in these last three games against LA, he has acquitted himself well. Particularly in Game 7, he played with an energy that belied his continuing defensive inaptitude. He stayed in front of pick-and-rolls and contested jumpers and layups. He vacuumed defensive rebounds. Nothing was easy for Leonard.

Jokic has figured out how to exert maximum influence over postseason games. This is a progression every NBA superstar has to make at some point, and only a select few currently playing have. Giannis Antetokounmpo very publicly has no idea what to do in the playoffs. James Harden, though he’s had his successes, hasn’t really figured it out. Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic seem to be getting close, if they’re not already there.

The playoffs are hard. The Nuggets have cracked a code, and used it to knock out a noted playoff killer in Leonard. Jokic commanded a highly-efficient and resourceful offense. Murray clearly made a leap in the playoffs, staying red-hot and playing the role of flamethrower, even as Leonard and others hounded him. Murray is Jokic’s perfect dance partner, a savvy ball-handler and willing passer who can morph into a dominant shooter at any moment.

Jokic makes all of it work. He put together his magnum opus, to this point, in Game 7.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have just finished a collapse of epic proportions. It’s hard to find such a favorite, such an on-paper juggernaut, that has fallen apart so early and so completely. There didn’t seem to be chemistry issues. Their weaknesses were below the surface. They boasted two bonafide superstars, one of which being the reigning Finals MVP with one of the most well-earned clutch reputations in the league. They had a 3-1 lead.

Maybe this series will always be most closely associated with the legacy of this Clippers team. It will be about Doc Rivers’s dismal post-Celtics playoff record, Leonard’s Game 7 disappearance, and Pandemic Paul George. It will be about the bygone Battle of LA in the conference finals, and how the Clippers went all-in like almost no NBA team ever has.

But LA got beat soundly and legitimately by a team that just played better. The Nuggets are a cohesive unit that has been together for years, growing steadily with its superstars and building a robust culture. Jokic and Murray have played elimination games before, winning some and losing some, and now they’ve put together their second miraculous comeback in a row. This Nuggets performance is a marked victory for roster building over the immediacy and the acceleration of the big-market Clippers, who jettisoned every draft pick possible to assemble what was supposed to be a super team.

This small-market victory is unlikely to change the direction of the NBA, which will see more versions of the Clippers and more super-talented teams assembled on the fly. (Denver gets another one next round.) But for the NBA’s underdogs, this is an immensely pleasing victory, one that will reverberate for years.

Jokic’s unprecedented performance sets a new standard for how a big man can control a game. The Nuggets are here to stay. Regardless of what happens in the conference finals against the Lakers, they’ve compiled one of the most memorable two-round playoff performances in history. Somehow, it’s all based around a sun king of a center, a maestro with the ball who always knows what to do.

The post The Denver Nuggets, led by the genius of Nikola Jokic, have dispatched a superteam appeared first on The Comeback.

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Stocks close lower, notching third straight weekly loss as tech-led sell-off intensifies

Djokovic, Nadal into last eight as Italian Open prepares for fans Bizarre items found in celebrity swag bags Stocks close lower, notching third straight weekly loss as tech-led sell-off intensifies MARKET SNAPSHOT © JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. stock indexes closed lower Friday, notching a third straight weekly loss, amid uncertainty about a fresh round of fiscal stimulus from Washington, concerns about tensions between the U.S. and China, and worries about the sluggish pace of economic recovery.

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The day’s trading action also marked quadruple witching, which refers to the simultaneous expiration of single-stock options, single-stock futures, and stock-index options and stock-index futures, which has traditionally been associated with some intraday volatility.

How did major benchmarks trade?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed at 27,657.42, down 244.56 points or 0.9%. The S&P 500 index (SPX) shed 37.54 points, or 1.1%, to close at 3,319.47. Friday’s session marked the first time the broad index closed below its 50-day moving average, 3,343.42, since April 23. The Nasdaq Composite Index (COMP) fell 116.99 points, 1.1%, to close at 10,793.28. For the week, the Dow lost less than 0.1%, the S&P 500 was down 0.6%, and the Nasdaq fell 0.6%.

The Dow is down 2.72% for the month-to-date, the S&P500 down 5.17% and Nasdaq Composite down 8.34%.

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What drove the market?

Investors continue to look for progress on fiscal stimulus talks in Washington which many consider crucial to underpin the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and sustain the stock market’s gains.

Congressional lawmakers planned to introduce a bill Friday that would see the U.S. government funded through mid-December but U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the airlines and restaurant industries both need help that could be in another big economic stimulus package.

House Democrats had passed a $3.5 trillion relief bill in May, but more recently in negotiations with White House officials said they would accept a $2.2 trillion deal, the Wall Street Journal reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats could push for more than their previous offer of $2.2 trillion but isn’t willing to advocate for anything less than her less proposal.

On the geopolitical front, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it is prohibiting transactions involving Tencent’s WeChat and Bytedance’s TikTok. The order makes no mention of the Oracle Corp. (ORCL)  deal with TikTok but said “the President has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved.” The news highlights lingering Sino-American testiness.

Investor angst over the impact of the Federal Reserve’s policy update on Wednesday is still rippling through the market also after the central bank indicated that the economic recovery could be a long one and that it did not expect to lift interest rates for at least another three or four years,

The central bank’s policy update on Wednesday marked its first since it outlined its average-inflation target strategy to avoid falling into the quicksand of low inflation by keeping interest rates close to 0% until the labor market achieves maximum employment and inflation has risen to its 2% target “and is on track to moderately exceed 2% for some time.”

That intention is “a unilaterally supportive message for stocks and risk assets over the long term,” said Michael Stritch, chief investment officer at BMO Wealth Management.

The challenge for investors, Stritch noted, is the near term. “We’re going to need some political clarity, and we have to get some vaccine clarity. There are a lot of assumptions out there right now and until some of those are confirmed or refuted, we will probably continue to see choppiness.”

For now, Stritch’s team is favoring what he calls “quality growth” stocks. “I don’t want to embrace a cyclical value story just yet,” he said in an interview. “I would pay up for certainty rather than make a big bet on timing the economic recovery.”

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Meanwhile, the Fed is embarking on a second round of stress tests for the banking sector amid the coronavirus epidemic and is reportedly considering extending limits to dividend payments and share buybacks on the industry.

In U.S. economic data, the University of Michigan said the preliminary reading of its U.S. consumer sentiment index in September was 78.9, up from 74.1 in the prior month, better than average estimates from economists polled by MarketWatch, who expected a reading of 75.9.

The U.S. current-account deficit, a measure of the nation’s debt to other countries, widened sharply in the second quarter. The current-account deficit widened to $170 billion from a revised $111.5 billion in the first quarter.

Which stocks were in focus?
  • XL Fleet, a provider of electric vehicle technology, said Friday it has agreed to merge with Pivotal Investment Corporation II (PIC) , a special purpose acquisition corporation, or SPAC, in a deal with a pro forma enterprise value of about $1 billion. Shares of PIC gained more than 14%.
  • Shares of Swiss-based Roche Holding AG (CH:ROG) were in focus on Friday after the drug maker said hospitalized COVID-19 patients taking rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra were less likely to need mechanical ventilation than those receiving placebo. U.S. listed Roche shares were up 1.8%.
  • Shares of U.S. Steel Corp. (X) rose nearly 5% Friday, after the steel producer provided an upbeat third-quarter outlook, including a “significantly better” performance expected for its flat-rolled business and signs that the tubular business has bottomed.
  • Oracle (ORCL)  shares slipped 0.7% amid the TikTok developments.
  • A trio of stocks surged in the first day of trading after their initial public offerings: Compass Pathways PLC (CMPS)  shares rocketed 71% higher, Unity Software Inc. (U)  shares advanced 32%, and Athira Pharma (ATHA)  shares surged by double-digits in early trade before settling to a 0.7% gain for the day.
How did other markets fare?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note (BX:TMUBMUSD10Y) rose about one basis point to 0.695%, continuing to trade in a narrow range. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) which tracks the performance of the greenback against its major rivals, was flat at 92.96.

Gold futures (GCZ20) headed 0.6%, $12.20, higher on Comex to settle at $1,962.10 an ounce. Futures for the U.S. crude oil benchmark (CL)  reversed early gains to trade 9 cents lower, near $40.88 a barrel as OPEC+ emphasized the importance of complying with output cuts during its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Stoxx Europe 600 index (XX:SXXP) lost 0.7% to close at 368.78, while the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE 100 (UK:UKX) ended trading at 6,007.05, also 0.7% lower. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HK:HSI) closed 0.5% higher and the Shanghai Composite (CN:SHCOMP)  lost advanced 2.1%. Japan’s Nikkei (JP:NIK) inched up 0.2%.

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