Rubio’s second game back much more of a struggle than his first

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Ricky Rubio returned to the basketball court for the first time since March on Saturday, and he largely played as if he never left. The energy he brought to his team while coming off the bench turned the game in Minnesota’s favor, even if it took them until overtime to ultimately come away with the victory.

In his second game back against the Magic in Orlando, however, it was a completely different story.

Rubio played 16 minutes — his target is in the 16-18 minute per night range while he eases his way back, and he’s sitting out the second game of back-to-backs, including Tuesday night’s contest in Miami against the Heat.

He finished 0-for-3 from the field, with four assits and three turnovers, and didn’t have nearly the invigorating effect on the game that he had in his season debut. Afterward, Rubio admitted that his second game back was much more difficult for him than his first.

From Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press:

… a dejected Rubio admitted he didn’t “feel as good” as he did in his euphoric debut Saturday night against Dallas at Target Center. Rubio also confided that he felt “slow” in his second game back from major knee surgery.

“Today was harder,” he said. “I didn’t feel like the first game. I didn’t feel good at all today. I have to break through these issues. It’s been nine months for me without playing.”

As magical as Rubio looked with some of his dazzling passing in his season debut, it’s going to be a while before he’s able to repeat performances like that for extended stretches, or on anything close to a nightly basis.

Kevin Love is still not yet in complete game shape yet either, and has been fading lately in the second half. Fans in Minnesota will need to be patient with this group as it gets back to 100 percent, but there’s still good news to be found in the fact that Rubio and Love are at least on the court at this point in the season, if only for short stretches, and even while not close to reaching their full potential.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.