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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?

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.