NBA Playoffs, Lakers Thunder game 6: Russell Westbrook must attack Kobe Bryant

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Thumbnail image for Westbrook_Dunk.jpgSitting by their lockers after game five, Thunder players admitted it caught them off guard — Kobe Bryant locking down on Russell Westbrook. It threw the young Thunder out of sync, it made Westbrook hesitant.

It cost them the game, and now they trail the Lakers 3-2. If they are to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history, Westbrook cannot be hesitant in the final two games, starting Friday night back in the Ford Center.

After reviewing all of Westbrook’s possessions, it became clear that Kobe was a part of the problem, but that the Lakers better overall play in slowing the game down played a big role as well. Westbrook is nearly unstoppable in transition, but in the half court he is more manageable. The Lakers took away a lot of those transition opportunities, and Westbrook did not convert the ones he did get at his normal rate. The Lakers length, and being back in transition, added to his off night.

For example, with 6:28 left in the third quarter Westbrook made a steal and was off in transition, but Kobe was with him. Kobe’s length and strength running down the floor took away easy layup that Westbrook feeds on, so Westbrook tried to go under the basket then pass out to a trailer, but that pass was picked off for his own turnover. Westbrook just has to attack in that spot and try to draw the foul.

In the half court, it is sort of the same. Early on Westbrook passed, then his first shot came off a pick and roll, when Kobe went under the pick and he pulled up and took a jumper. Kobe is long enough to play off him some and still challenge those jumpers, and Westbrook was not hitting them.

And he settled for them too much — four of his last five shots of the game were threes. The Lakers will take that. While he hit two of four late in the game, Westbrook on the season is a 22 percent shooter from three. That is what the Lakers want him to do.

But even with Kobe on him, Westbrook can attack.

There were a couple of instances where, even with Kobe face up on him where Westbrook went strong to his left and got a decent shot — what bothered him was less Kobe and more the help from Bynum and Gasol (something the Lakers did much better in game five). Westbrook needs to go at him, needs to attack and create (if Bynum helps, make the pass to the man he vacated).

Getting a couple fouls on Kobe would also be huge.

Also, Kobe loves to play free safety and leave his man, even when he knows he shouldn’t. Westbrook got a couple of good looks because Durant had the ball at the elbow, Kobe drifted to him and Westbrook slashed behind him to the rim. Those chances will be there again.

Kobe on Westbrook makes things harder on the young point guard, but not impossible. What he can’t do is change his game, he can’t settle for jumpers. There needs to be points in transition. He needs to attack.

If he does, he’ll get a chance to do it again on Sunday in game seven.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.