Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka make history in Thunder win over Nuggets

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Numbers so rarely tell the story in retrospect. Every number based on human performance requires interpretation, it requires understanding. The idea that numbers are meaningless in the context of basketball is asinine, but the idea that in 20 years, some kid will check basketball reference and see the box score for the Thunder’s 124-118 win over the Nuggets, marvel at it, and never really understand its texture is a shame. Because it felt like Kevin Durant scored 100, not 51, that Russell Westbrook was every bit as dominant as Durant, though he wasn’t, and that Serge Ibaka rendered the Nuggets limb from limb when in reality his man defense was questionable as ever, his weakside as brilliant as always.

But us? We’re lucky to have been here to witness it. We witnessed history. Sunday night was the first time in NBA history a team has had a 50-point scorer, a 40-point scorer, and a triple double, all by three different players. It was historic, it was legendary, it was all completely necessary to get past the Nuggets.

– Kevin Durant scored 51 points on 28 shots, includig 5 of 6 from the arc and 9-10 from the stripe. Durant was at once aggressive in his assault on the rim and opportunistic, slipping in crevices to find open looks from mid and long-range. It is a career high for Durant and his highest since scoring 47 on 28 shots lat year against Minnesota. Down 2 at the end of regulation, Durant slipped off a screen, caught the inbounds and burst past Chris Anderson to the rim for a dunk to tie. In overtime, a Serge Ibaka offensive rebound was kicked out to Durant who calmly slipped back from transition to find the perimeter line. That’s the key with Durant. He worked out of such a wide variety of situations, he flowed seemlessly through the offense on his way to those 51. It is a pinnacle game in Durant’s career.

– Russell Westbrook dropped 40 points in a game, and yet was completely overshadowed. Westbrook had nine asssists, which will be completely overlooked and just two turnovers. but the perception will remain that Westbrook shoots too much. Do you know how few 40-point scorers there on this league? Westbroook repeatedly rose and daggered the Nuggets late. His ballhawking ways put constant pressure on the Nuggets and forced turnovers. Kevin Durant took 28 shots and Westbrook still found his way to assist or score on 58 points. The fact he is so underrated is criminal.

– Serge Ibaka finished with the first triple-double using blocks in franchise history, OKC or Seattle. He finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 blocks. He ate up the Denver attacks at the rim, blocking and swatting and rejecting. It was his clutch offensive rebound and kickout to Kevin Durant in overtime that really cemented the game for OKC.

There is plenty to be concerned about beneath the surface for OKC. James Harden had a bad night. Kendrick Perkins does not seem like the defensive powerhouse he was brought in to be. The Thunder needed their two best players to score 91 points just to win a game, at home, against a depleted team, in overtime. But for a night, three players put the team on their shoulders and produced at a Herculean level. It was the stuff of legend.

Just another night in the NBA.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.

PBT Podcast: Future of Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio, also award talk with Dan Feldman

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We asked for your questions on Twitter and Facebook, and you gave myself and Dan Feldman got some fascinating discussion points:

If the Celtics land a top two pick, what does that mean for the future of Isaiah Thomas in Boston?

Is Ricky Rubio‘s run of strong play mean he remains the point guard of the future in Minnesota?

How good is Devin Booker?

We discuss all of that plus the NBA end of season awards that we are still looking at and trying to make up our minds about.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.