Russell Westbrook,

Westbrook’s 40 points lead Thunder to blowout Game 4 win over Spurs

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In the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs demolished the Thunder with precision execution on the offensive end of the floor, and enough defense against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to force them into low-efficiency performances.

Serge Ibaka returned in Game 3, and so did Oklahoma City’s collective swagger. But in Game 4, it was Durant and especially Westbrook who took control, and ensured the Thunder would even the series at two games apiece.

Behind an incredible 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals, Westbrook produced a statistical line matched only by Michael Jordan over the past 30 years in leading OKC to a 105-92 victory that wasn’t at all that close.

“Russell’s defensive toughness really set the tone in this game I thought,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks afterward. And as monstrous as Westbrook was offensively — playing efficiently and under control, while distributing to his teammates at the same time — his defensive intensity was what really made the biggest difference.

The Thunder have beaten the Spurs seven straight times with Ibaka in the lineup, and while he was fine in this one with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, this game was about Westbrook on both ends of the floor, and Durant picking his spots.

This season’s MVP wasn’t exactly invisible in finishing with 31 points, and did most of his damage in the second quarter where he scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just nine minutes of action. But Westbrook was everywhere, disrupting the Spurs offense by getting into the passing lanes and then making largely smart decisions offensively.

There’s a “let Westbrook be Westbrook” mantra chanted by his supporters, which essentially means that his frenetic style of play is bound to produce some frustrating sequences, and that you need to accept the good with the bad in order to truly embrace the Thunder guard’s brilliance.

But that’s utter nonsense.

When Westbrook is just playing with speed and without thinking, his shot selection is destructive more than it is helpful. He showed how his energy can be properly utilized in this one, however, and if the Thunder can somehow get these types of performances out of him consistently — not in terms of the raw numbers, but in terms of the defensive effort and the efficiency — they will be very difficult to stop.

San Antonio trailed by as many as 27 points in the third quarter, before the bench was emptied and the reserves were left to clean up the mess. The likes of Boris Diaw, Corey Joseph and Matt Bonner made enough of a run to force the Thunder to play their starters to close things out, but the Spurs were never close enough to warrant putting the starters back in.

That might bode well for Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili heading into Game 5, but the rest will only help so much. San Antonio needs to figure out a way to slow the Thunder down enough to turn around a 21-0 deficit in fast break points that the team faced in this one, while reverting back to the style of play that enabled the Spurs to get out to the 2-0 lead in the series that has now completely vanished.

John Wall’s reaction to the Cousins’ trade is to have a drink (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at Verizon Center on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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It was a strange situation in the “mix room” interview zone after the All-Star Game Sunday, the place the majority of players went for a post-game media obligation (MVP Anthony Davis, the coaches, and a few other players who had big games such as Russell Westbrook went to a different, larger room).

Strange because in the three hours or so the players had been away from their phones and social media accounts, the DeMarcus Cousins trade had gained steam and seemed destined to be done (the story the deal was done broke about 15-20 minutes later). The players walked in and had no idea what had happened β€” including Cousins.

But I loved John Wall‘s reaction.

When the news broke about the Cousins trade, it seemed everyone needed a drink. Wall had his recovery drink handy β€” notice the label was stripped off of the bottle, meaning it was not the NBA sponsor’s product β€” so he went with that.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: “I would love to play in a competitive game”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS β€” The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it β€” The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and β€” like the entire weekend itself β€” are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 β€” while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.

Kings announcer goes scorched earth on Twitter after DeMarcus Cousins trade

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 07:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings takes on the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Sacramento Kings organization from taking shots at him as he walks out the door.

In the team press release announcing the trade on Monday Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said, “Winning begins with culture and character matters.”

Subtle.

Meanwhile, the team’s play-by-play announcer Grant Napear went scorched earth on Cousins minutes after the trade was announced. The Twitter thread is pretty dang straightforward:

Yikes.

There’s definitely a contingent of Kings fans that were fed up with Boogie’s attitude — 7 years is a long time to wait for your franchise center to not consistently get kicked out of games — but it’s not a good look to flame the dude on his way out.

Saying you don’t think they could win with him is one thing, but saying he’s a “dark cloud” and that most of his teammates hated him is borderline. Plus, coming from a team-affiliated it’s just a weird thing to do.

Napear has had his issues with Cousins in the past, so perhaps it’s understandable we see this reaction with the big man now in a new uniform.

Add this to Divac saying he had a better deal lined up two days ago, and the Kings look even moreso like an organization without a direction.

Charles Barkley hung out with King Cake Baby to celebrate his birthday (VIDEO)

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One of the New Orleans Pelicans mascots is a Pelican. His name is Pierre, and after a makeover he’s looking pretty normal these days. But the Pelicans also have a second mascot of sorts. His name is King Cake Baby — named after the Mardi Gras pastry — and he’s horrifying.

So when you have an NBA All-Star Game in town, what do you do? Trot out a giant baby mascot to mix in with the league’s elite, of course.

Or at least have him bother Charles Barkley on his birthday:

Ok it’s actually weirder that Kenny Smith wanted to see what was under King Cake Baby’s bib. I can never unsee that.