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Westbrook claims 50th career triple-double; Thunder top Suns

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook had a career-high 22 assists in his 50th triple-double, helping the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Phoenix Suns 114-101 on Saturday.

Westbrook also had 26 points and 11 rebounds for his 13th triple-double of the season. He had gone three games without one, yet the league’s leading scorer continues to average double figures in points, rebounds and assists.

Steven Adams had 19 points and seven rebounds and Enes Kanter added 12 points for Oklahoma City, which had dropped two in a row. Thunder guard Victor Oladipo, the team’s No. 2 scorer for the season, missed his third straight game with a right wrist sprain.

Devin Booker scored 31 points for the Suns, who have lost six of eight.

The Thunder led 54-39 at halftime. Westbrook had 12 assists before the break, a Thunder record for a half. He had six points on 3-for-6 shooting and six rebounds.

Phoenix’s first-half scoring total matched the lowest the Thunder have allowed in a half all season.

It took Westbrook a while to get to double figures in points – he finally got there on a free throw with 8:41 left in the third quarter. He was stuck on nine rebounds when he went to the bench with 2:35 left in the third. He scored 17 points in the period to help the Thunder take an 89-69 lead into the fourth.

Westbrook re-entered the game with 8:44 to play, and he got his 10th rebound within the first minute of his return.

TIP-INS

Suns: F T.J. Warren returned after missing 13 games with a head injury. He scored two points in 14:28. He scored 30 points when the teams met earlier this season. … Booker is the only Phoenix player who scored more than 12 points.

Thunder: Anthony Morrow got his first start of the season in Oladipo’s place and scored 11 points in 21:20. … Westbrook was issued a technical foul in the third quarter. … Westbrook had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 113-110 win over the Suns earlier in the season.

UP NEXT

Suns: Visit Minnesota on Monday night.

Thunder: Host Atlanta on Monday night.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.

Jazz: Dante Exum undergoing surgery after shoulder injury

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Jazz point guard Dante Exum hurt his shoulder in a preseason game – an injury that immediately looked like it could be season-ending.

Though Utah doesn’t outright say Exum is done for the year, this doesn’t engender much hope.

Jazz release:

The following is a medical update on Utah Jazz guard Danté Exum who suffered a separated left shoulder on October 6 vs. Phoenix.

After further evaluation, Exum (6-6, 190, Australia) has elected to undergo surgery to stabilize the AC joint of his left shoulder. The surgery is scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 24 in Los Angeles. Further updates will be provided when appropriate.

Exum (obviously) didn’t receive a contract extension before today’s deadline, so he’ll become a free agent next summer. After one full missed season already and two years of limited effectiveness, it’s not even clear Utah will extend Exum a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. The former No. 5 pick almost certainly won’t meet the starter criteria, which means his qualifying offer would be worth $4,333,931 (down from $6,619,903 based on his draft slot).

The Jazz will start Ricky Rubio, and Raul Neto will be the primary point guard behind him. Wings Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles can all share facilitating duties.

Utah will probably be just fine without Exum this season, which speaks to his marginal place long-term.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.