Russell Westbrook, Darius Morris

Westbrook’s stellar first half helps Thunder bury the Lakers

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The Lakers weren’t expected by anyone to go into Oklahoma City on Friday and take down a Thunder team that was not only playing its best basketball of the young season, but was also riding a six-game winning streak.

But it didn’t have to go down like this.

Russell Westbrook destroyed the Lakers with a 27-point first half, where he drained a career-high five three-pointers while also managing to dish out five assists. Oklahoma City put up 67 points in the game’s first two quarters, running out to a lead that L.A.wouldn’t be able to come back from on the way to a 114-108 victory, the Thunder’s seventh straight.

Westbrook was in full attack mode, and while he did have a vicious dunk or two, his aggressiveness resulted in hot outside shooting of pull-up jumpers from all distances. He’s among the fiercest players in the game when he gets going, and he was rolling unlike any other time we’ve seen from him in the recent past.

As we continue to try to dissect the Lakers struggles, this game was once again proof that it’s all about the defense. No one on L.A.’s roster can contain Westbrook individually, but the team’s schemes and rotations remained a step slow, and allowed easy buckets even when Westbrook cooled off considerably in the second half.

Westbrook was just 2-of-10 from the field for six points after the break, but by then, the damage was done. And, unlike Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Westbrook has help when the shots stop falling, in the form of the league’s leading scorer over the past few years in Kevin Durant.

Durant had 18 second half points to keep the party going for the Thunder, who also got sound performances from Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison that the Lakers couldn’t find a way to answer.

Bryant finished with 35 points and seven assists, but committed five turnovers and connected on just 11 of his 24 field goal attempts. It was the sixth straight time the Lakers lost when Braynt has scored 30 or more points, and that’s in no way a coincidence — when the offense stagnates, Bryant gets impatient and takes matters into his own hands.

Dwight Howard had 10 rebounds in the first period, five of which were offensive that helped L.A. to eight second chance points that allowed them to hang close, if only for a quarter. But he finished with just eight more the entire game, mainly because there weren’t many rebounds to be had with the Thunder making half of their shots.

If there was a bright spot for the Lakers in this blowout of a contest that showed just how far away the team is from true title contention, it’s the fact that there was no intentional fouling of Howard, and at least for one night, the “Hack-A-Dwight” nonsense was left on the shelf.

That’s really more due to the quality of L.A.’s opponent, however, because a superior team that has no trouble beating the Lakers doesn’t need to resort to such questionable tactics.

The Thunder simply did what was expected on Friday, although Westbrook made sure that the win came with a power and a fury that should stick with the Lakers for quite some time. Meanwhile, L.A. now has 48 more minutes of game film from which to teach, and defensively, the lessons to be learned right now seem limitless.

NBA coaches to pick their own Coach of the Year

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Head Coach Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks calls a play during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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NBA executives pick Executive of the Year. Players now have their own awards.

Now, coaches are joining the act.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

The National Basketball Coaches Association (“NBCA”) is proud to announce the inception of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be an annual award given to honor the most successful Head Coach in the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) as voted upon by his or her peers. It will be the only award chosen entirely by NBA Coaches. Every season, Head Coaches representing all 30 NBA Teams will select the winner. The winner of the 2017 Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be announced at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 NBA regular season.

This award will recognize the dedication and hard work of NBA Head Coaches. The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be presented to a Coach who helped guide his or her players to a higher level of performance on-the-court and showed outstanding service and dedication to the community off-the-court. The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award is named after the esteemed Michael H. Goldberg, the long-time Executive Director of the National Basketball Coaches Association (a group that encompasses all Head and Assistant Coaches in the NBA and its alumni group).

In 1980, six years after the NBCA was founded, Michael H. Goldberg became its first Executive Director. Building upon the existing foundation of the NBCA, he guided it during the years of the greatest growth in professional basketball. He helped gain significant benefits for NBA Coaches, including billions of dollars in increased retirement funds, and disability insurance. And so, the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award honors the substantial contributions of Mr. Goldberg, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, passionate representation, and tireless promotion of NBA Coaching.

“This award honors the life work of a great leader, tireless foot soldier for the best interests of Coaches and the NBA, and most importantly, a trusted friend,” said NBCA President Coach Rick Carlisle. “The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will have special meaning because of its namesake and the fact that it is voted on by all Head Coaches.”

Media will continue voting for the Coach of the Year award that already existed. As the players learned, it’s difficult to supplement – let alone, supplant – the awards that already exist.

But if coaches feel better about picking their own honoree, more power to them.

Pistons owner gives Stan Van Gundy vote of confidence

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 15: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores (L) stands with new head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy after a press conference to introduce Van Gundy at the Palace of Auburn Hills on May 15, 2014 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Pistons were the NBA’s youngest playoff team last year, and they returned their core and upgraded their bench. This season was supposed to be another step forward.

Instead, the Pistons are 19-24. Their defense is a wreck. Reggie Jackson‘s return from injury has invited finger-pointing. A lot of talk has produced little change.

Where does that leave president/coach Stan Van Gundy?

Pistons owner Tom Gores, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I have absolute confidence in Stan,” Gores said. “We are having a hard time — and Stan and I are very real about that — but we also know we have a great group of guys and we believe they’ll work through this.”

“We’ve got a bump in the road and that’s what success is about — you have to work through it. It’s all about having rough times and your ability to work through,” Gores said. “I never worry about Stan because he wants to win; he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen in my life.

“I believe in him as a man and I believe in him as a strong person.”

This is why Van Gundy, a career coach, pushed to become team president. He has only one boss now, protecting his job security. Only Gores – not some middleman – can fire him.

Gores has staked his reputation on Van Gundy by giving Van Gundy such broad power. That’ll buy Van Gundy much more time to turn this around.

The Pistons aren’t as bad as they’ve looked – if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets healthy. Regression to the mean and a softer schedule will lift Detroit. But the Pistons are already down in the standings and Caldwell-Pope is so important to them, it might be too late for this season. So much rides on the shooting guard’s rotator cuff, but Detroit’s struggles also mean depending on other teams to falter.

If the Pistons miss the playoffs, it’d be a disappointing season in Detroit. But that probably wouldn’t cost Stan Van Gundy his job.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers: