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Three things we learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook has entered the Jordan zone

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Here is what you need to know from around the NBA Sunday, in case you were busy dodging Santas on the ski slopes

1) Russell Westbrook enters Jordan territory with fifth straight triple-double — and Thunder keep winning.
“”I am truly a fan of his… when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball [to] the way I played the game of basketball.” That was Michael Jordan last month describing Russell Westbrook as he introduced Westbrook for the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Now Westbrook is entering The Jordan Zone — Sunday night he recorded his fifth straight triple-double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. The last guy to record five-straight triple-doubles? Jordan, who had seven straight back in 1989. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double for the season (31 points, 10.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists), the last guy to do that this deep into a season was Oscar Robertson (the year of the Kennedy assassination).

But here’s what’s more important — the Thunder are 5-0 during this streak. Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. The Thunder have a Top 10 defense this season, but they need Westbrook to carry the offense to get wins. So far, he’s been able to do that at an MVP pace.

2) DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis put up big numbers again, their teams fall short again. Not everybody can put up monster numbers and get their team a win. Sunday night DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points (on 9-of-30 shooting, just 4-of-13 inside 5 feet) plus 12 rebounds for the Sacramento Kings. But the Kings shot 32 percent as a team and lost to the Knicks 196-98.

Then there was Anthony Davis, who had 37 points (on 14-of-32 shooting) and 15 rebounds for New Orleans, but the rest of the team shot just 33.3 percent, and the Pelicans fell to the Thunder 101-92. Davis continues to lead the league in scoring at 31.8 points per game, and the Pelicans are playing better since the return of Jrue Holiday, but they remain four games back of a playoff spot, and that’s going to be a tough climb the rest of the season.

3) Clippers slip back to bad habits, fall to Pacers. We thought the Clippers had turned a corner. After three ugly losses on the road they showed maturity of spirit and game we hadn’t seen from them, bouncing back to knock off the Cavaliers and then Pelicans on a back-to-back. It seemed these Clippers were different.

Then there was Sunday. Los Angeles raced out to a 23-8 lead against Indiana, then proceeded to let all their bad habits take over again. The Clipper bench struggled again — when Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were on the court together Sunday the Clippers were +11, when they weren’t combined the Clippers were -20. The Clipper defense was inconsistent and allowed the Pacers to get 58 points in the paint. Los Angeles turned the ball over 20 times.

Credit the Pacers for showing some fight. Paul George struggled with his shot but found a way to make plays. Jeff Teague did a good job defensively on Chris Paul. Thaddeus Young was making veteran plays and carrying the offense. Rodney Stucky was fantastic off the bench.

Still, these are the kinds of games an “elite” Clippers team should win. Los Angeles has lost four of six. Which Clipper team will we see Wednesday against the Warriors?

Nike “very concerned” after LeBron James’ jersey rips on opening night

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In the team’s first preseason game, the jersey of the Lakers’ Tyler Ennis was torn in the back with a tug from an opponent. Everyone made tearaway jersey jokes and moved on, thinking it was a one-off situation.

Then LeBron James‘ jersey ripped down the back on opening night, on national television.

Now Nike is looking into the issue, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

Nearly three days after one of its jerseys tore in the first regular-season game of its new deal with the NBA, Nike released a statement Friday expressing worry about the issue, without offering insight as to what happened or what will be done.

“The quality and performance of all our products are of utmost importance,” the company said in a statement. “We are obviously very concerned to see any game day jersey tear and are working with the NBA and teams to avoid this happening in the future.”

This is the first year Nike has the NBA apparel contract, having just taken it over from Adidas. They made the jerseys similar to what had been done for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where there were no issues, but these jerseys are lighter than the former Adidas ones. It’s unclear what, if any, changes could be coming.

Like many of the jerseys from opening night, LeBron’s ripped one is being auctioned by the NBA to raise money for hurricane relief.

Reports: Rockets think Chris Paul could be sidelined for up to a month

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The Rockets’ opening night win over the Warriors was a boost to their confidence — they believe they can challenge the Warriors next May in the playoffs.

Chris Paul is a big part of that plan, which is why we may not see him for up to a month (even though he is listed as day-to-day, and officially only out Saturday). With that, the Rockets are considering adding another point guard to the roster. Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news Friday afternoon.

At the top of the free agent point guard list is Jameer Nelson, the veteran was just waived by Denver to make room for Richard Jefferson.

C.J. Watson and Trey Burke also are available.

Chris Paul and Harden still need to smooth out playing together, something that will take time on the court together. CP3 being out until mid-November is not ideal, but the Rockets are thinking about May, and ideally June, so they will sacrifice a few games now to have him healthy then.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.