Rockets-Thunder Game 3 preview: Russell Westbrook’s injury a series changer

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The Rockets are down, but Russell Westbrook is out.

Westbrook tore his meniscus and will require surgery. He’s out for the rest the Thunder’s first-round series and longer, giving Houston a much better chance of winning games in these playoffs.

But winning the series? That’s still a tall order, especially already down 0-2.

The Thunder’s net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) without Westbrook during the regular season was better than Houston’s overall. It was even better than Houston’s after the Rockets’ mid-season trades, which improved the team.

Still, Westbrook’s injury obviously puts the Thunder in difficult and new territory.

The Thunder’s remaining playoff rotation players (at least so far) – Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher – shared the floor without other teammates for just 278 minutes during the regular season.

Oklahoma City could add another player to its rotation rather than just shrink it to eight, but the Thunder are already using both their backup point guards. Fisher and Jackson often share the court, but now, one or both will have to play more without the other. Some of Oklahoma City’s best and most-used lineups without Westbrook include Hasheem Thabeet, but considering the Rockets found Game 2 success with small ball, giving Thabeet more minutes probably doesn’t make much sense.

No matter how the Thunder adjust their rotation, they’ll have to adjust their offense. Houston has focused on Durant and Westbrook, holding Durant to 43 percent shooting and Westbrook to 41. In turn, Oklahoma City’s other players are shooting 16-for-36 (44.4 percent) on 3-pointers in this series. What happens to those open outside looks when the Rockets have to focus on only one star rather than two?

Durant must step up and carry more of the load.

The Thunder move the ball worse with Fisher and/or Jackson rather Westbrook, so Durant’s one-on-one game becomes more important. During the regular season, Durant took only one more shot per 36 minutes with Westbrook out than with Westbrook in. Durant probably can’t allow his usage to remain so low sans Westbrook, and he can’t wait for Jackson and/or Fisher to set him up.

Iso-Durant isn’t a terrible playoff offense. Everybody hates isolation-heavy offenses, because they’re not fun to watch. But because they do such a great job of limiting turnovers, they’re fairly effective, especially in the playoffs, when there are fewer fastbreak opportunities

Westbrook’s injury might suck some of the aesthetic beauty from this series, but it also makes the series more competitive.

LeBron James criticizes officials: “I’m getting hit, slapped and grabbed” (VIDEO)

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Bets are now being placed for the size of fine that LeBron James will receive from the the office after his comments following the Cleveland Cavaliers loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, 110-94.

After the game, James told reporters that he was sick of the officiating with reference to his drives. In particular, LeBron pointed out that he felt that shooters were being better protected than some of the more powerful drivers like him.

LeBron recorded a near triple-double in the loss to San Antonio, scoring 33 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. That still wasn’t enough for the Cavaliers to push past their Western Conference rivals as LeBron & Co. lost by 16.

Via Twitter:

We saw quite a bit of complaining about officiating to start the season as the NBA has rotated in some less-experienced referees. Gregg Popovich got his fill. Kevin Durant went off. Steve Kerr blasted the refs. James Harden had strong words about an officiating setup. Patrick Patterson got fined $10,000 for criticizing the refs.

Fans and players alike were pushing for the league, NBRA, and NBPA to meet, which they were supposed to have done. We’re only a few days out from the All-Star break, so we still have yet to decide whether a change has taken place on the floor.

How he has been officiated has been a complaint of LeBron’s all season long, and so it’s not great news that he is talking about it just a week away from the All-Star game. James has posted the second-lowest FTA per 100 possessions of his career in 2017-18, trailing only his rookie season.

Report: Dan Fegan, former agent for John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, dies in car crash

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Dan Fegan, the former NBA agent for players like John Wall, Dwight Howard, and DeMarcus Cousins has reportedly passed away.

Fegan, 56, was at one point a representative for other big-name players including Chandler Parsons, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, and Ed Davis. He had a public falling out in 2017 with his agency, Independant Sports & Entertainment (ISE). Fegan and ISE had filed suits against each other in 2017 after Fegan was fired.

The report of Fegan’s death comes from Aspen, Colo. where early on Sunday morning Fegan’s car collided with a bus.

Via Aspen Times:

Fegan was killed when the SUV he was driving was hit by a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus along Highway 82, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Two other passengers in the SUV, a 29-year-old woman from California and Fegan’s 5-year-old son, were airlifted to a hospital in Denver with serious injuries, according to Colorado State Trooper Gabe Easton. The name of the woman has not been released.

There was one passenger on the Glenwood Springs-bound bus, Easton said. Although they were “shaken up,” the bus driver and passenger were not injured, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said.

Awful news for Fegan’s family. Hopefully his son and the other passenger make a speedy recovery.

Gregg Popovich on Fox News pundit attacking LeBron James: “Unbelievable”

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Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham launched an attack at Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the NBA star voiced his opinion on Donald Trump. LeBron had done so many times before, alongside other notable NBA personalities like Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr.

This instance of LeBron speaking up apparently struck Ingraham in some type of way, enough to invoke a shot at James’ intelligence and speaking mannerisms in thinly-veiled comments. Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” which sparked the ire of many around the league. LeBron responded in kind, and most considered Ingraham’s racially-tinged tirade to be par for the course from that particular outlet.

Ingraham, who failed to do basic research on LeBron’s background, community leadership, and charitable contributions, also drew criticism from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Speaking before San Antonio’s game against the Cavaliers, Popovich told a crowd that Ingraham’s comments said more about her than about LeBron, and that he was happy the game had such a positive role model for young fans in James.

Via Twitter:

Shoutout to Popovich for continuing to be a voice from such a prominent position within sports and pop culture. A small group of people keep responding to the Spurs coach much in the way Ingraham posited to LeBron, that he should stick to sports. Popovich, of course, is a veteran of the Air Force, worked his way up to Major, was at one point fluent in Russian, and worked in the intelligence sector. He’s uniquely qualified to comment on political happenings.

It’s good that guys like Pop and LeBron haven’t exhausted themselves even though the discussion about what they say is undoubtedly tiring.

Jimmy Butler has surgery on right meniscus, no timetable for return

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The playoff picture in the Western Conference became much more opaque after Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury earlier in the week.

Reports out of Minnesota was that Butler had suffered a right meniscus injury, ducking what many had feared was an ACL tear. According to the team, Butler had successful surgery on his right meniscus this weekend.

As of Sunday morning they did not have a timetable for his return.

Via Twitter:

Minnesota currently stands third in the West but they will have a hard time fending off the rest of the playoff hopeful teams below them without their star player.

For his part, Butler is hoping he will be back in time for the playoffs. Early reports were that the team was thinking his recovery had a 4-to-6 week timeline, but again nothing has been set. Meniscus recovery times vary greatly depending on the issue at hand and the procedure done, neither of which we have details on at this time.

The Timberwolves have the 15th most difficult strength of schedule ahead of them according to Tankathon.com, with games against major Western Conference opponents ahead of them as well as bottom-dwellers like the Memphis Grizzlies.

Minnesota has been a good story all season long. No doubt many will bring up Tom Thibodeau’s workload once again with Butler injured, something compounded by Butler apparently requesting to rest during the 2018 All-Star Game.

Wolves fans have been waiting a long time for this. They don’t deserve this kind of punishment at this late a date, but the Basketball Gods are cruel and unceasingly unforgiving.