Report: OKC hopeful Russell Westbrook will play in Feb. 20 matchup with Miami

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And the rich stand to get much, much richer.

The Oklahoma City Thunder already own the league’s best record, and if you had to call it right now, they have the league MVP in Kevin Durant as well. Most thought the Thunder could reasonably stay afloat during this time, but few expected them to thrive without point guard Russell Westbrook.

Oklahoma City has gone 22-8 in Westbrook’s absence, rebounding nicely from the bumpy beginnings without their star to hit a groove going into the All-Star break.

Let’s not forget how much better the Thunder is at full-strength, though. OKC is 21-4 on the season with Westbrook in the lineup. When healthy, this team is a juggernaut.

But you know who else is a juggernaut? The Miami Heat. Oklahoma City already took down Miami once without Westbrook this season, but asking them to do it a second time might be pushing it.

According to sources of Marc J. Spears at Yahoo! Sports, the Thunder might not have to worry about that, though.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are hopeful that injured guard Russell Westbrook will return for Thursday’s game against the Miami Heat, a source said to Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder announced on Dec. 27 that Westbrook had surgery on his right knee for the second time since late October. He was projected to be out until after the NBA All-Star break without a specific return game. The source said Westbrook will be re-evaluated on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, which could open the door for a return against the visiting Heat.

If Westbrook had a target date to return after his knee  surgery, this wasn’t a bad game to choose. He’ll need to pass all his tests and get medically cleared, but you know a competitor like that is chomping at the bit to play against a team as great as the Heat. If he can go, I’d hate to see anyone try and stand in his way.

That being said, the Thunder would be wise to take things slow with Westbrook if at all possible. Two knee surgeries in such a short time span is no joke, and ultimately, this upcoming battle with the Heat doesn’t mean a great deal. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, even if Westbrook is the kind of guy who usually sprints the entire marathon.

In these situations, asking “what would Gregg Popovich do?” is never a bad idea. Westbrook will of course want to play as much as he possibly can, but Scott Brooks should and  likely will put a heavy minutes restrictions on him, at least initially. It’s a big game against the Heat, to be sure, but there should be many more big games awaiting the Thunder in the near future.

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.

J.J. Redick apologizes for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people – he was tongue-tied. But he didn’t actually apologize, and that bothered many.

Now, he’s getting that part right.

Redick:

Maybe Redick really did just stumble over his words. Based on the inflection, it certainly sounds possible.

Maybe he thought he was being funny then got caught.

He’d respond now the same way now either way. Maybe it’s just unfortunate he’s caught up in this. Maybe he’s using plausible deniability to get away with something.

I don’t know, but it’s good he apologized. People can apologize for accidents, and it usually helps make everyone feel better and move on.