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Keeler: DeMarcus Cousins gives Nuggets toughness. Grit. Attitude. And a break for MVP Nikola Jokic.

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Keeler: DeMarcus Cousins gives Nuggets toughness. Grit. Attitude. And a break for MVP Nikola Jokic.

The screens are worth the price of admission alone. DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t move guys. Dude pancakes them.

Hey, if this 10-day contract with the Nuggets doesn’t work out for Cousins, George Paton could do a lot worse at offensive tackle for the Broncos than a 6-foot-10, 270-pound road-grader with a chip on his shoulder.

“He gives us grit,” Nuggets guard Austin Rivers said of Cousins, who made his Denver debut during a 117-111 win over the Detroit Pistons.

“Everybody knows he’s an enforcer … he’s still got to get his legs back, but he’s going to be big for this team. Especially with that second unit. He’s going to be a problem.”

A good one, you hope. If Sunday night was a harbinger of what’s to come, Boogie gives the Nuggets two things they haven’t had since Mason Plumlee left town two summers ago: One, a true center to spell Nikola Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP; and two, a physical presence who won’t take guff from anybody.

“I’ve been around the block,” Cousins said with a grin after putting up 12 minutes, one bucket, one airball, six misses, six boards and one technical foul.

At one point, Cousins even followed coach Michael Malone out to midcourt when his boss was protesting a call against Aaron Gordon.

“We were just laughing about that,” Malone, the Boogie Whisperer, said of his new center, whom he coached in Sacramento. “He was like, ‘Coach, man, I gotta calm you down.’”

Boogie turns 32 next summer. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about toughness. Intangibles. Wisdom. And keeping Joker’s legs fresh for the stretch run.

“I felt like I had two cement blocks on my feet,” Cousins said after misfiring on 6 of 7 attempts from the floor. “But I made a couple plays … the ultimate thing (was) we got a win. And I look forward to the rest.”

The Nuggets’ bench outscored the Pistons’, 41-37. Denver came in averaging 33 points from its second unit, with a collective plus/minus of -2.7.

“That’s the mentality that group needs,” Malone said of that Cousins grit. “They’ve got to have toughness. You’re not just going to come out and run your offense and be all pretty. We’ve got to disrupt that, be physical. And if they can do that, (that unit) can help our team a lot.”

When he entered the game with 2:17 left in the first quarter to spell Jokic, Ball Arena cheered him like an old friend.

“Get it, Boogie!” somebody cried from Section 130 as the Nuggets’ new big man went through warm-ups.

Fourteen seconds later, the big man air-balled a jumper in the paint. With 1:26 to go, he bricked a couple free-throw attempts, then promptly got whistled for a shooting foul on the other end of the floor. His first 3-pointer caromed hard off the iron.

But he’s also a willing passer who still sets killer screens, one of which helped free up fellow newbie Bryn Forbes to drain a silky jumper about 25 seconds into the second frame.

Boogie saved the fun stuff for the third quarter. With 1:49 to go in the stanza, he drew a charge on Rodney McGruder, the Almost-Nugget. Boogie finally got on the board as a Nugget with a spin move, miss, and putback with 1:33 left in the quarter.

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Orlando Magic win NBA draft lottery, come away with No. 1 pick

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Orlando Magic win NBA draft lottery, come away with No. 1 pick

The NBA draft lottery misfortune that’s surrounded the Orlando Magic for nearly 20 years has ended.

The Magic won Tuesday night’s draft lottery in Chicago, coming away with the No. 1 pick for the first time 2004.

After early success with the lottery, the Magic had either stayed at or fallen from their pre-lottery positioning in their last nine tries.

That trend ended, with the Magic, who entered Tuesday with the second-best odds of having a top-five pick, winning the lottery for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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Magic position themselves for better look at prospects at NBA draft combine

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Magic position themselves for better look at prospects at NBA draft combine

For the Orlando Magic, the next few days will be a significant step in a month-long process that’ll culminate with the June 23 NBA draft.

The NBA draft combine, which takes place Wednesday through Friday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, offers the Magic their most comprehensive look, up to this point, at the prospects they’re considering selecting in the June 23 draft.

The combine is more than simply physical measurements, medicals, on-court drills and scrimmages — although that information is helpful.

During the season, teams are allowed to scout prospects but aren’t allowed to contact them.

Like most teams that didn’t already start hosting pre-draft workouts, the combine will be the Magic’s first opportunity to interview and have one-on-one interactions with prospects.

It offers them a chance to get to know the prospect as more than just a basketball player.

This can go a long way in determining who gets invited for a workout at the team’s facility or who ends up higher on a team’s draft board.

Teams are allowed to interview a maximum of 20 players at the combine, while each player is allowed to interview with a maximum of 13 teams. Just because the Magic didn’t interview someone at the combine doesn’t mean they’re not interested or won’t pick them in the draft.

Every top prospect — from Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga) and Jabari Smith (Auburn) to Paolo Banchero (Duke) and Jaden Ivey (Purdue) — will be present.

This matters for the Magic, who’ll once again have a top pick in this year’s draft.

While most players who are expected to be taken high in the draft typically don’t participate in all of the drills and will rarely scrimmage, those off-court interactions are part of the intel the Magic will consider leading into the draft.

The Magic also have second-round picks (Nos. 32 and 35).

While Orlando has a tendency of trading its second-round picks under president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, the combine will help the Magic gather the necessary information to see whether one of — or both — of those picks are worth keeping if they find a prospect they like outside of the first round.

There’s also the chance they could try to trade those picks with another team to get into the back end of the first round, among other possibilities.

Tuesday night’s draft lottery helped provide clarity into each team’s situation.

Teams also use this period to gather information on other organizations, such as intel about players they’re interested in acquiring, their own players who they’d trade, how they’re feeling about their lottery position and if they want to move their pick.

These conversations matter for the Magic as they continue to build a foundation with their young core.

The combine, however, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Predraft workouts and the ensuing interviews allow teams to get a better look at players under their own roofs.

Weltman recalled meeting Wendell Carter Jr. for the first time during the predraft process and left with a strong and favorable first impression. Almost three years after passing on him in the 2018 draft, the Magic traded for him three years later.

Intel continues to be gathered after the initial contact, making the combine a springboard for what’s to come during the next month leading into the draft and beyond.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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St. Paul woman sentenced to more than 10 years for fatally stabbing boyfriend last year

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Kayla Janea Pope

A St. Paul woman was sentenced Tuesday to more than 10 years in prison for fatally stabbing her boyfriend in the back with a kitchen knife during an argument last year.

Kayla J. Pope (Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Kayla J. Pope, 22, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court to 128 months after pleading guilty to second-degree unintentional murder in the Sept. 10 slaying of Eric T. Brown, 23, of Minneapolis, on St. Paul’s East Side.

Pope was represented by Katie Allen and Luis Rangel Morals, who are attorneys for Neighborhood Justice Center, a criminal defense nonprofit based in St. Paul. The attorneys argued to Judge P. Paul Yang that Pope should receive no prison time and be put on supervised probation.

Allen and Morals cited prior to sentencing and again Tuesday the documented incidents of alleged physical abuse that Pope faced at the hands of Brown, who was the father of her 2-year-old son.

They also noted how Pope did not have a criminal record previously and how she has undergone therapy and mental health services through Ramsey County Child Protection.

Morals called the stabbing a “freak accident,” noting how the knife wound was less than two centimeters in length.

“Ms. Pope has scars on her body documenting the abuse,” he said.

Brown’s father, Sandy Brown, addressed the judge, saying that he told his son and Pope to “leave each other alone.” Brown “did not deserve to die,” his father said. “I hate that she took my son from me.”

BROWN FOUND WITH STAB WOUND

According to the criminal complaint, St. Paul police were called to the area of East Seventh Street and White Bear Avenue about 9 p.m. on a report of a man being shot during an assault.

When they arrived, they found Brown with a stab wound near his left shoulder. He was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse, police said. Officers began lifesaving measures on the man. He was transported to Regions Hospital and died a short time later.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that the stab wound to Brown’s back had cut an artery, causing him to bleed to death.

Police interviewed Pope at the scene and later at the police station where she changed her story multiple times, the complaint states.

At first she said Brown was stabbed by a man wearing all black who had met him to sell him marijuana, the complaint said. Video from traffic cameras, combined with an earlier police call to the apartment for a domestic dispute, cast doubt on Pope’s story of a shadowy assailant.

Video showed Brown running from Pope and he appeared to be wounded in the altercation, the complaint states.

Pope later changed her story, saying Brown was abusive and had threatened to take their child and leave. She said she meant to stab his backpack, but that it shifted in the struggle and the knife went into his back instead, the complaint states.

She led police to where she had pushed the steak knife into the ground after fleeing the scene, the complaint said.

ALLEGED PATTERN OF ABUSE

The alleged pattern abuse was central to her attorneys’ argument for probation. They described her as a “battered woman.”

In April 2019, when Pope was 15 months pregnant, Brown punched her in the belly during an argument, according to a criminal complaint charging him with domestic abuse. That same day, after she was released from the hospital, Brown punched her in the chest, pulled her hair and choked her.

Brown was convicted of gross misdemeanor domestic assault for the incident. In July 2019, Judge Yang sentenced Brown to one year in jail, which was stayed, and two years of probation.

The next time Pope reported abuse to police was in January 2021, according to her attorneys. In the five months before the stabbing, she reported five more instances of either abuse or other violent behavior, her attorneys wrote to Judge Yang.

“I cannot help but be appalled at the many times she reached out for help and did not get the help she needed,” Allen told the judge on Tuesday.

Ramsey County prosecutor Cory Tennison acknowledged the past domestic abuse, but added “two wrongs don’t make a right.” He argued for a 150-month prison sentence.

“The criminal justice system did not take a knife and stab this man,” he said. “The defendant did.”

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