Associated Press

Three things we learned Tuesday: In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Minnesota team shows tenacity. Finally.

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We know you couldn’t watch all of the NBA’s Tuesday night lineup because you were focused on what a man’s face looks like in super slo-mo when getting hit by a ball. We’ve got you covered, here are the takeaways from Tuesday.

1) In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Timberwolves show tenacity, maturity. Get win. We clearly expected too much, too soon from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s easy to look at their roster on paper, to watch all that young talent in a game — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc.— and see the potential for greatness. We all thought that the addition of coach Tom Thibodeau would bring to that talent the intangibles we saw in his Bulls teams — we’d see tenacity. Instead, we’ve seen a Minnesota team that plays an immature game, that doesn’t show the determination, the grit to defend every play every night. We’ve seen ego. We’ve seen Thibodeau not been able to reach all this talent and teach the young stars the other things it takes to win in the NBA. We haven’t seen grit and tenacity.

Until Thibodeau brought them home to Chicago Tuesday. The Bulls blitzed the Timberwolves and overwhelmed them early, racing out to a 26-6 lead, at one point being up by 21 points. Chicago put up 38 points in the first quarter.

But they put up just 56 points the rest of the game, never breaking 20 in a quarter and shooting just 33.8 percent overall and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc in the final three quarters. The result was a 99-94 Minnesota win. The Timberwolves team that has rolled over in the face of adversity all season buckled down on defense and was able to stall out a Bulls offense that, when pressed, is unimaginative and relies heavily on isolation. The Bulls do not shoot well from the outside (they did to start the season, but that has faded and they are 29th in the NBA in eFG%), and if you can keep them off the free throw line you can force them into tough shots. Meanwhile, on offense, the athletic Timberwolves were making plays.

What matters with the Timberwolves this season is progress. That hasn’t come as fast as some wanted and expected to see, there will be no playoffs for the team this year, but progress may be coming. Tuesday night was a step. It’s fair to question if Thibodeau and his hard-driving ways are reaching the young core and if they are buying in, or tuning the old man without a life outside basketball out. But maybe it’s all just taking longer than some expected. Maybe Tuesday night we saw a step in the right direction, and while those steps may be wobbly at times ahead maybe there steadily will be other steps to follow. Let’s see where this team is and how they are playing after the All-Star break. The narrative of this team could change.

2) Portland packs paint, blocks shots, finds formula (for a night) to neutralize Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. This was the Thunder team I feared we would see more of this season: The Westbrook-against-the-world model would run into teams packing the paint to take away his drives, there would be blocked shots and turnovers, and OKC would lack the shooting to make teams pay for that strategy.

With Victor Oladipo out for the Oklahoma City (sprained right wrist), that’s what happened to them in Portland. The Trail Blazers played their best defensive game of the season, they sagged back and packed the key — there always seemed to be three guys in there on Thunder drives — and the result was the Thunder shot 40.4 percent in the paint. The Blazers didn’t pay for that strategy as the Thunder shot 29.6 percent from three (and were 1-of-7 on corner threes). OKC turned the ball over on 19.4 percent of their possessions (big men Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 11 turnovers between them).

This combined Tuesday night with the fact the weight of this offense seems to be wearing a little on Westbrook — he had 20 points, but it took 19 shots to get there. This is a trend now — in his last 10 games he’s still averaging a triple-double (29 points, 12.4 rebounds, 11.2 assists) but he’s shooting just 39.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. Check out his shot chart from the last 10 Thunder games.

Westbrook shot chart

Oklahoma City has succeeded this season on a combination of a top-10 defense and Westbrook doing it all on offense. It’s gotten them off to a 15-10 start. But Tuesday night the hot shooting that Portland can bring undid the defense (particularly the OKC bench units), and the loss for the Thunder points to bigger questions: Can they maintain that pace? Can Westbrook?

3) Fightin’ Kristaps Porzingis puts up 34, but that’s not enough for Knicks. Phoenix beat New York 113-111 in overtime Tuesday night, a nice home win for a Suns team that has had its share of struggles this season.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Knicks’ fan favorite (and New York’s best player) Kristaps Porzingis put up 34 points and showed a lot of fight Tuesday. Almost literally after Suns’ rookie Marquese Chriss threw KP to the ground.

Porzingis had a monster night, and if he doesn’t foul out maybe overtime looks a little different.

Russell Westbrook dogs Warriors, Damian Lillard after Paul George misses All-Star roster

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Ah yes, let the mud-slinging begin.

Russell Westbrook is on a team with three huge stars in the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was always going to be difficult for all of them to make the 2018 NBA All-Star team out west.

But that doesn’t matter to Russ.

After Tuesday night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets (where Westbrook hit the game-winning shot, no less) the reigning NBA MVP had some thoughts about teammate Paul George missing out on the All-Star Game, calling it “outrageous”.

Westbrook wasn’t too happy with teams getting “four people” onto the team (a dig at the Golden State Warriors) and that players are, “Talking about getting snubbed until they get in.”

That last part seems to have taken aim at Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, one of the most talked about snubs in recent years who finally got another All-Star bid.

Via Twitter:

Westbrook also said that George was “Top 2 at his position” which really colors the underlying issue at hand: Russ likes PG and wants him to stay in OKC.

Nobody reasonable would say that George is a Top 2 player on the wing. Not while LeBron James and Kevin Durant are alive, at least. And Westbrook’s comments about folks being stars vs. not stars, even if the voting goes one way says a lot.

The Warriors are the best team of all time. A bunch of guys getting on All-Star teams in their heyday makes sense, even if one of those guys is Klay Thompson (sometimes). We all have Warriors fatigue, I guess.

Meanwhile, Lillard is one of adidas’ biggest athletes when it comes to basketball, the face of a franchise, and has put up numbers deserving of making the team in years past. He’s also a big personality and a rapper. Lillard’s name is in lights each and every night. The issue with him sees to be that nobody watches him consistently east of the Cascades.

But all this arguing gives legitimacy to Westbrook’s point, which is mostly personal. George’s numbers have taken a dip in some areas, particularly when it comes to things like VORP, assist percentage, and true shooting. They’ve gone up in others, like 3-point shooting. He’s still a very good player and very valuable to the Thunder.

Each year, guys get left off the All-Star team for various reasons. Sometimes it’s just their turn to be on it or be off it. Nice of Westbrook to stop by with some takes.

Here’s hoping for him that George stays in OKC.

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning shot to beat Nets (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie hit the game-winning shot for the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. At least, many thought he did.

But that honor actually went to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who had hit the real game winner with a little more than three seconds to go.

Westbrook’s bucket came on after a sideline inbounds play led to a hard drive to the right side of the bucket for the reigning MVP.

Then, Dinwiddie got the ball and had appeared to make a 3-pointer to win the game for the Nets. However, it clanged off the side of the rim, moving the net in a way that many watching on TV and in the arena thought had gone in.

Via Twitter:

OKC beat Brooklyn, 109-108.

Here’s LeBron James scoring the 30,000th point of his career (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is officially the youngest player to ever reach 30,000 points in an NBA career.

The Cleveland Cavaliers great, who preemptively congratulated himself in a weird Instagram post earlier in the day, got points 30,000 and 30,001 at the age of 33 years and 24 days, edging Kobe Bryant by a year and 80 days.

The play came with just a second to go in the first quarter while the Cavaliers played on the road against the San Antonio Spurs.

Dribbling on the left arc against Danny Green — a formidable defender — LeBron gave a hesitation dribble before stepping just inside the 3-point line for a pull-up jumper.

Via Twitter:

LeBron still has Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Where he ends up might just depend on how long Nowitzki plays.

Top five 2018 All-Star Game snubs

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We fans love to talk about who gets snubbed. There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and we argue about who was 69th and deserved to be there.

With the NBA All-Star game, there are always legitimate snubs — and with the Western Conference so ridiculously deep this season good players were going to get left out. Just picking my reserve choices for a podcast felt brutal.

We now know the All-Star Game starters and reserves, so who got snubbed. Here are the top five.

1) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles has been devastated by injuries this season (not to mention losing Chris Paul in the off-season) yet they are still in the playoff hunt in the West and the main reason is Lou Williams. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 23.3 points per game, 5,3 assists a night, and is shooting better than 40 percent from three. He had a red-hot January so far, averaging 29.2 points per game. This may be a case where Damian Lillard got the nod from the coaches for his multi-year body of work (he’s been good a long time), but Williams is having his best season ever and has a great case.

2) Chris Paul, Houston Rockets. He likely didn’t get selected because he has missed 17 games this season — but Stephen Curry missed 15 and is a captain. When CP3 has played he’s been brilliant, averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, he’s been crucial to improving the Rockets defense this season, and when he is on the court the Rockets outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 23-5 when he plays. Houston is the second best team in the NBA, they should have more than one representative tonight.

3) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. The coaches went with four guards for the East reserves, and that left just three frontcourt spots and four deserving players. Drummond is the odd-man out. Which sucks — he is averaging 14.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he remains the best rebounder in the game today pulling down 15 a night. He has improved his defensive play as well, but what everyone notices is he hitting his free throws (62.9 percent) and that means Stan Van Gundy can play him at the end of games and not sub him out.

Drummond was more than a little frustrated he didn’t make the cut.

4) Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder. George has played well on both ends this season next to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from three on one end of the floor, and defensively he is averaging 4.4 deflections per game and has 93 steals — both tops in the league. George is a four-time All-Star and it feels weird to see him left out, but he came to the ridiculously deep Western Conference and good players were not going to make it. He’s the odd man out in the frontcourt.

5) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. Could have got a lot of directions here – Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic can make their cases on appeal — but people have been sleeping on just how well Walker has been playing this season. Walker is averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists per night, and when he is on the court the Hornets outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions (that’s better than the Celtics or Timberwolves net ratings for the season). The problem is when he sits they fall apart, and Walker pays the price for his team struggling this season. His name has popped up in trade rumors, and he is the best guy available right now (not that he gets moved in a tight market). Walker was an All-Star last season and had a very strong case to be one again.