westbrook-game 4

Westbrook, Durant find the perfect balance in Game 4 win over Lakers

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During the Thunder’s playoff run last season — one that ended in a loss in the Conference Finals to the eventual champion Mavericks — there were constant questions about whether or not Russell Westbrook was a good long-term fit to play alongside Kevin Durant.

One year later, now on the verge of taking down the Lakers after a come-from-behind Game 4 victory, the only question now is which one of the Thunder’s stars you want to beat you, and at which time.

Westbrook finished with 37 points, while Durant finished things off with a game-winning three-pointer to lift OKC to a 3-1 series lead — one that gives their team a chance to return to the Conference Finals with a win at home Monday night.

The Thunder can feel as good about this victory as any thus far in the postseason, for the simple fact that they took the best shot that this Lakers team had to give, and they were able to not only withstand it, but overcome it. And much of the credit for that should go to Westbrook.

“KD got his numbers, but Westbrook had a heck of a game,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown noted afterward. “I thought he stepped up and he made plays. He imposed his will on the game and he made plays, especially when it counted in the fourth quarter.”

The Lakers got a monstrous performance from Andrew Bynum (10 points, 5-of-5 shooting) in the game’s first 12 minutes that sparked them early. Kobe Bryant then got going midway through the second period, and put on a clinic during the third, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, often while double-teamed, and always while making the conversion of tough shots seem effortless.

As the Lakers built a lead that hung around 10 points for most of the night, Westbrook made sure it never got out of hand. He had eight points to help match Bynum’s 10 in the first, and 13 to go with Bryant’s 15 in the third.

“My job was to try to keep us in the game, regardless of what was going on” Westbrook said. “I was kind of upset because we weren’t able to get a stop. It kind of felt like, we’re down 10, eight, 10, eight … we just kept going back and forth. So it was kind of frustrating at the same time.”

As recently as a few short days into this lockout-shortened season back in December, Westbrook was frustrated not with his opponent, but with Durant in particular — or maybe, in the grander scheme of things, with his perceived position and role on his team.

There was the so-called “altercation” between Westbrook and Durant, the one where reporters caught them jawing during a timeout in a sideline huddle where the two reportedly had to be separated. That caused quite a stir at the time, and had even the most respected writers wondering if Westbrook playing alongside Durant would ever work in OKC.

It appeared to be an evolution from the previous season — one where the questions of whether or not Westbrook shot too much to his team’s detriment, or whether he deferred enough to Durant were constant topics for discussion.

On this Saturday night in May in Los Angeles, those questions may have once and for all been put to rest. Because even as Westbrook was the one who scored consistently from wire to wire to keep his team close, Durant happily stepped in when his opportunity came to close the game out.

The two worked masterfully together, and coexisted to perfection. There was no exasperation from Durant when he didn’t see the ball for extended stretches, as Westbrook delivered time and again with an array of pull-up jumpers and lightning-quick bursts of speed to the rim for bucket after bucket.

Westbrook wouldn’t be able to take this position of leadership on the team — even if only for games or stretches within them — if not for Durant’s mentoring him along the way.

“It’s definitely helped me,” Westbrook said of the criticisms he’s received in the past. “Last year we got put out in the Conference Finals, I was definitely disappointed in that. Coming into this year, I wanted to try to help my team and become a better leader. Kevin’s done a great job of helping me out and staying positive, regardless of what’s going on throughout the game; giving me confidence, and that’s just how I feel during the playoffs.”

The reason the Lakers lost this game was due to a complete offensive breakdown in the fourth quarter. There was too much of Bryant taking tough, contested shots, while the offense that was so fluid for most of the night turned stagnant.

With Westbrook and Durant, it was the opposite.

Simply put, Durant stayed ready and engaged while Westbrook went to work. And having two incredible athletes who are equal parts scorer and playmaker are a deadly one-two punch that now looks like a combination that will need to be reckoned with by any team with championship aspirations.

The questions being asked in Oklahoma City will no longer involve Westbrook and Durant, and whether or not the two can successfully make things work. All fans want to know now is whether the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals will come this season, or if they’ll have to wait just a little longer for the inevitable to take place.

Pelicans sign D-League Rookie of the Year Quinn Cook

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With Jrue Holiday away from the team and Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter both hurt, the Pelicans need help on the perimeter.

The latest candidate to provide it: Quinn Cook.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Quinn Cook.

Cook went undrafted last year after a four-year career at Duke then went to the D-League, where he won Rookie of the Year, went to the All-Star game and made all-league third team. It was an encouraging start to his pro career.

Despite having 15 players ( the regular-season roster limit) with guaranteed salaries, the Pelicans keep attracting players – including Lance Stephenson – to training camp on unguaranteed or barely guaranteed deals. I wonder whether New Orleans has assured anyone it would open a roster spot somehow. If so, Cook has a real chance to claim it.

Jrue Holiday’s wife gives birth to healthy daughter, according to Anthony Davis

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 31:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center on October 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Jrue Holiday took a leave of absence from the Pelicans to be with his wife, who was pregnant and had a brain tumor.

Good news: Lauren Holiday gave birth, according to Anthony Davis.

Davis, via Justin Verrier of ESPN:

“She had a baby girl, so she’s doing fine,” Davis said at the Pelicans’ media day. “Now it’s time to get Lauren back on track.”

The next step is Lauren Holiday undergoing surgery to remove her tumor, which was always slated to occur after she gave birth. Hopefully, that goes as smoothly.

Pat Riley believes Chris Bosh’s career is over: ‘We are not working toward his return’

Miami Heat players Josh Richardson, left, Chris Bosh, center, and Tyler Johnson, right, look up as they watch a video replay during the final seconds of the second half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball playoffs first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Miami. The Hornets defeated the Heat 90-88. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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When the Heat and Chris Bosh reached détente during last year’s playoffs, the team released a statement saying both sides would continue working together to get him playing again.

After not clearing Bosh for training camp due to lingering blood-clot issues, Miami is pulling its support from that joint mission.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

There were reports the Heat believed Bosh is finished. Saying they’re no longer working toward getting him back on the court is blunt as can be.

I believe Riley cares about Bosh. Bosh has spent six years with Miami, become a part of the community, sacrificed his game when called upon, acted professionally and helped the Heat win two championships. He remained an excellent player when his blood-clotting became a problem, and losing his production would be a major blow. I believe there was and is genuine concern about Bosh’s health.

But to act as if the cap ramifications never crossed management’s mind is absurd. To review the situation:

Bosh has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. The Heat could waive him and have his remaining salary excluding from their team salary on Feb. 9, 2017 – one year from his last game – if he doesn’t play between now and then and a doctor determines he has suffered a career-ending injury or illness.

That doctor, selected jointly by the NBA and players union would have to determine Bosh “has an injury or illness that (i) prevents him from playing skilled professional basketball at an NBA level for the duration of his career, or (ii) substantially impairs his ability to play skilled professional basketball at an NBA level and is of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” II would be the likely route here.

Bosh would still be paid if waived, but the doctor’s determination is the only way for Miami to get his salary off its books. That could open considerable cap space in 2017

Bosh never playing again would be bad for the Heat. Bosh getting waived then proving the doctors wrong and playing 25 games elsewhere would be worse for the Heat, because that would put his salary back on the their cap – though Miami could use the cap space in the 2017 offseason first. That’s why an even worse scenario for the Heat is Bosh playing sporadically and ineffectively between blood-clot problems over the next three years, continuing to count against the cap and putting his health at risk the entire time.

If the Heat can’t get a fully productive Bosh back, they might just want to get his salary off the books. The quickest way to do that is ensure he plays no games before Feb. 9.

Maybe Bosh shouldn’t play again. Playing on blood-thinners, according to most doctors, is dangerous. The common recommendation is for Bosh to remain on blood-thinners after his second episode.

But the cap ramifications are unavoidably part of the considerations now. If it gets to that point, the opinion of the jointly selected doctor will be huge. The Heat can’t unilaterally declare Bosh done.

And Bosh certainly isn’t declaring himself done, which puts him at odds with his team. There’s no more working together.

It’s now Heat vs. Bosh with several potential outcomes in play.

LAPD investigating Derrick Rose, who’s facing rape lawsuit, for criminal charges

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Derrick Rose‘s best argument in the court of public opinion as he defends himself in a rape lawsuit was the lack of criminal charges. There is no burden of proof for filing a lawsuit. Just because his alleged victim sued him proved nothing. If Rose broke the law, why wasn’t he facing criminal charges?

That question prevented the lawsuit from drawing major attention. It allowed Rose to paint the plaintiff as money hungry. It allowed the Knicks to operate without concern.

About that…

Judd Legum of ThinkProgress:

In a letter to the alleged victim’s attorney, Brandan Anand, a detective from the LAPD confirmed there is an active criminal investigation against Rose and the two other defendants in the civil trial.

Rose should be concerned, given the compelling evidence against him. There’s certainly a wide gap between some compelling evidence and a conviction, and the fact that the night in question was three years ago makes a conviction less likely. Rose hasn’t even been charged.

We’ll see what the investigation uncovers, but Rose just lost some benefit of the doubt.