Associated Press

Nicolas Batum scores 28 points, Hornets beat Thunder 123-112

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Nicolas Batum says there is an art to drawing a foul on a 3-point shot. Nicolas Batum says there is an art to drawing a foul on a 3-point shot.

“It’s not easy,” Batum said with a wide smile.

Batum twice drew whistles on 3-pointers en route to a season-high 28 points in the Charlotte Hornets’ 123-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Batum was a regular at the foul line Wednesday night, converting 13 of 15 free throws. As a team, the Hornets made 40 of 49 foul shots to snap a two-game losing streak.

Batum said he watched others like Kevin Durant and Reggie Miller work to perfect that art of drawing the foul, which includes reading the defender’s movements.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes you throw up a really bad shot,” Batum said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Batum just has a good feel and understanding on how to play the game.

“He subtly, very calmly impacts the game,” Donovan said. “He lets it come to him. He has a great pace and tempo to his game. Obviously, he’s very, very crafty in terms of understanding how to draw fouls. He’s a really good passer.”

Russell Westbrook had 33 points and 15 rebounds, but fell two assists shy of his 17th triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City.

The MVP candidate was assessed a technical foul in the first half after he hit a referee in the head with a ball. After the Thunder called a timeout Westbook was retreating toward the bench and tossed an overhead pass toward the referee, who wasn’t looking as the ball hit him in the side of the cranium. Another official came running into the Thunder huddle and called a technical. Westbrook reacted in utter disbelief, putting his hands over his face.

Donovan said it was “unintentional.”

Enes Kanter added 22 points, and Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams each had 18 for the Thunder.

The Thunder led by one after Kanter hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum after erasing a double-digit deficit.

The Hornets took control with about six minutes left, outscoring the Thunder 22-11 the rest of the way.

Kemba Walker, who scored 34 and 37 points in his last two games while making an All-Star push, had nine points in the decisive final quarter. Frank Kaminsky carried the Hornets early, scoring all of 17 points in the first half as Charlotte took a 60-55 halftime lead.

TIP INS

Thunder: Had beaten the Hornets 11 straight times before Wednesday night. … Westbrook has 28 double-doubles on the season.

Hornets: Marco Belinelli returned to action after missing the last five games with a sprained left ankle. … Roy Hibbert was called for a technical foul in the third quarter after exchanging words with Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams.

A BETTER FINISH

Before the fourth quarter, the Hornets gathered together in a huddle making sure they were all on the same page heading down the stretch.

“The fourth quarter has been an issue for us defensively and we really wanted to play as well as we can,” Walker said. “We did a good job. We wanted to clamp down as best as we can. And we have to continue to be that way.”

DEFENDING WESTBROOK

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he felt Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a solid job defending Westbrook. Even though he had 33 points, Westbrook shot just 10 of 31 from the field.

“There weren’t a lot of easy (shots),” Clifford said. “I thought Mike played with great discipline and I thought our guys off the ball were great.”

Clifford called Westbrook “the MVP of our league right now.”

 

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.