Russell Westbrook scores 37, leads Thunder to easy win over Lakers

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The last time the Thunder played the Lakers, they turned the ball over just nine times, and Russell Westbrook struggled offensively, finishing with just 17 points on 6-22 shooting.

Oklahoma City dropped that one on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles, so Tuesday night at home, the team corrected itself in those two areas — in a big way — in order to come away with an easy 122-105 victory over a Lakers team that, in its current condition, really doesn’t have many answers for what the Thunder are able to do offensively.

Westbrook was magnificent, pouring in 37 points on 15-29 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. Kevin Durant wasn’t dominant, but still managed 26 points on 9-22 shooting, with nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocked shots.

As a team, the Thunder shot better than 47 percent from the field, but it was really just a 3-12 night from Kevin Martin off the bench, and an 0-5 night from Kendrick Perkins (who isn’t counted on to score) that dragged the team’s shooting number down. The key numbers were points in the paint (where the Thunder bested the Lakers by 30), fast break points (where the Thunder had 16 more), and turnovers, where the Thunder were historically excellent.

Oklahoma City turned the ball over just twice against the Lakers in this one, tying the record for the lowest in the league over the last 27 years. According to the rock solid Basketball-Reference.com, only the Bucks in 2006 and the Cavaliers in 2009 matched the two-turnover feat that the Thunder were able to replicate on Tuesday.

The thing about the Thunder and their low number of turnovers, however — at least when playing the Lakers — is that it seems to be relatively consistent. Nine turnovers in the January loss is still a very low number, so maybe, just maybe, OKC isn’t the best matchup for the Lakers defensively.

OK, that’s obviously an understatement.

The athleticism showcased by Durant and Westbrook is essentially the antithesis of this Lakers team as currently constructed. As a result, there is no scheme that L.A. can put together with its current personnel that will stop what the Thunder are trying to do offensively. OKC had put up a ridiculous 71 points by halftime, and the Lakers struggled to climb back into it the rest of the way.

The Lakers were able to rally a bit in the fourth quarter, and cut a 13-point lead down to six with 5:36 remaining, and had multiple shots to get even closer. Metta World Peace missed a three and a layup on a fast break attempt, and in between Kobe Bryant missed a 15-foot jumper and Steve Nash missed a three of his own.

Any of those shots would have brought the Lakers to within a legitimate striking distance, but all of the misses eventually gave way to a three-pointer from Serge Ibaka that ignited an 11-0 Thunder run that closed the game out, and L.A. didn’t score the rest of the way.

Bryant finished with 30 points, but left the game in the first quarter due to an “ulnar nerve contusion” to his right arm. That’s essentially a funny bone injury, and while he was able to play through it, Bryant was shooting left-handed whenever he could, which isn’t exactly a sign of confidence that everything is fine.

World Peace rolled an ankle and had an X-ray on it after the game, but seemed to be confident that he’d play in New Orleans on Wednesday. Dwight Howard grabbed 16 rebounds, but finished with just six points on 1-7 shooting. He didn’t get a shot attempt in 15 second half minutes, and fouled out with 2:24 remaining.

The loss ultimately doesn’t do anything to the Lakers’ playoff hopes; as long as L.A. continues to beat the teams it’s supposed to, the chances are good it can sneak into the postseason. What this game does remind us is how far the Lakers are from their ultimate goal of winning a championship, and how far-fetched it is for anyone to believe that should the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs, that they’d somehow actually have a fighting chance.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.