Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder – Game Two

The Extra Pass: The biggest deadline acquisition? Russell Westbrook.

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In just a few short hours, the NBA trade deadline will pass. If history is any indicator, we’ll see somewhere in the range of eight trades go through.

Some will be big, and some will be small…and none will have as big of an impact on the title picture as the return of Russell Westbrook will.

Whether Westbrook returns from knee surgery and plays in the marquee matchup against the Miami Heat remains to be seen, but let this sink in: the team with the best record in the league will welcome back one of the best players in the league. Every other addition has no chance to be anything but overshadowed. We know the level Westbrook is capable of playing at.

It’s just been a while since we’ve seen it. Westbrook rattled off a triple-double in his last game on Christmas day before going under the knife again, and plenty has changed since.

Kevin Durant, improbably, got even more effective and more efficient. Jeremy Lamb stepped up as a viable option on the wing. Reggie Jackson showed he’s more than capable of stepping in when needed. Scott Brooks even took out Kendrick Perkins at the right time. No, really.

If the Thunder looked better, it’s because, well, they got better. That makes sense, as the improvements just didn’t stop while Westbrook was away. Bigger roles and responsibilities were thrust upon the whole team, and the response was certainly encouraging.

But it was also a bit misleading. Not in the sense that Oklahoma City’s success was a fluke, or that Durant couldn’t sustain this type of performance, but rather in the sense that Westbrook should be viewed as anything but completely essential to the Thunder’s title hopes.

There’s a tendency to think that sort of thing when a team succeeds without a player. Call it the Ewing Theory or whatever you will, but it’s common place in the NBA.

You can hear the murmurs already. Every pull-up jumper that clanks off the rim with 18 seconds left on the shot clock will feel like lost money more than ever before. Every 4-for-16 game will be met with more disapproval than ever before. Every face Durant makes after a Westbrook shot will be over-analyzed. You’re crazy if you don’t think most people want to see Westbrook fail.

If it were any other player, you might be worried about the pressure or the scrutiny bleeding over to on-court performance. It could certainly cause someone to be less assertive, and to maybe deviate from the way they once played. We’ve seen that happen.

The chances that happens with Westbrook, though? Slim to none. More than ever before, he’ll need that confidence and aggressiveness he’s displayed throughout his career, primarily because he’s coming off multiple surgeries. There is very little room for doubt in the mind of a professional athlete, and Westbrook has never exhibited anything but the utmost confidence in his abilities. He’s equipped perfectly to handle these current circumstances.

Ultimately, that’s good for Oklahoma City. It may cost them a few wins in the short-term as Westbrook shakes off the rust and everyone readjusts, but make no mistake: the Thunder are undoubtedly a much better team with Westbrook back in the lineup.

It’s just something to keep in mind during deadline day. The bar is about rise, and fellow title competitors may want to act accordingly.

Doc Rivers on DeMarcus Cousins: “I’m 55. It’s tough for me to call a grown man ‘Boogie'”

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The Kings trade with the Pelicans has made DeMarcus Cousins the NBA’s mostdiscussed player lately.

But Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers isn’t sure he can address Cousins by his nickname.

J.A. Adande of ESPN:

Cool story, Glenn.

Deron Williams clears waivers, intends to sign with Cavs

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks brings the ball down the floor against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Free agent guard Deron Williams has cleared waivers and told the Cleveland Cavaliers he intends to sign with them.

Williams, a five-time All-Star, was waived earlier this week by Dallas. He will give the defending NBA champions a playmaker they’ve needed all season and one LeBron James demanded.

Williams cannot sign with the Cavs until Monday. Cleveland hosts the Milwaukee Bucks that night. The Cavs will be the fourth team for Williams, who is averaging 13.1 points this season.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue can bring him off the bench and also play him with Cleveland’s starters to give James and Kyrie Irving rest before the playoffs.

Kyle Lowry plays through injury in All-Star game, out for Raptors now

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in action during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
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Kyle Lowry participated in the 3-point contest. He played nearly 18 minutes in the All-Star game.

But when the Raptors played the Celtics in their first game after the break, Lowry never saw the court.

He was sidelined with a right wrist injury suffered in Toronto’s final game before the break.

Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet:

He can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened and didn’t even feel it during the game, but when Lowry woke up the next morning he knew something was up.

“Honestly, I thought I’d slept on it wrong — I thought it would go away,” Lowry said. “It was a little sore, but I paid no attention to it.”

Unconcerned at the time, Lowry didn’t tell anyone but his wife about the wrist pain, and took off for New Orleans where he participated in both the NBA’s three-point contest and all-star game this past weekend. He received some treatment in between his all-star appearances and iced his wrist on and off, but he still saw little cause for alarm.

“I thought over the break it would rest up and heal up,” Lowry said. “But it constantly stayed bothering me.”

“That’s a blow — that’s a huge blow for us,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Friday evening after announcing the injury. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. But, no, it’s not a one-day thing.”

This is bad — bad for the Raptors and bad for Lowry’s reputation.

Lowry might have wanted to show his toughness by not running to the doctor for every bump or bruise. But this will also raise questions about whether he prioritized the shine of All-Star Weekend over the grind of Toronto’s season. Lowry is not a trained medical professional, so it’s understandable he misdiagnosed his injury. But he makes his living using his body, and his employer provides trained medical professionals to handle these types of things. Lowry’s bet that his wrist would heal over the break clearly backfired.

And now the Raptors pay the price. They traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to make a push, but that’ll be much tougher without the the team’s best player. Toronto beat Boston without Lowry, but the Raptors are still fourth in the Eastern Conference. Passing the Wizards for third is paramount to avoiding a second-round matchup with the Cavaliers and getting a clearer path back to the conference finals.

Every game matters now for Toronto, and wherever blame falls, Casey nailed the outcome: Lowry’s injury is a huge blow.

Brandon Ingram posterizes Taj Gibson on alley-oop (video)

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The Lakers wouldn’t trade Brandon Ingram for DeMarcus Cousins, because they believe in Ingram (or because they couldn’t get on the same page about a deal, but let’s go with a belief in Ingram).

The Thunder traded for Taj Gibson because he provided, among other things, stellar rim protection.

One of those worked better than the other on this play.