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Russell Westbrook, Thunder cruise past Bulls 109-94

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CHICAGO (AP) — Even Russell Westbrook was impressed with the passing by Oklahoma City’s big men.

Westbrook flirted with another triple-double and Steven Adams led a dominant effort in the paint, helping the Thunder pull away from the Chicago Bulls for an easy 109-94 victory Monday night.

Westbrook had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, falling just short of his 18th triple-double of the season. But his all-around performance is practically a sure thing these days.

It was the inside play of Adams and Enes Kanter that really hurt Chicago, with the big men scoring with ease or passing out of double-teams to set up their teammates.

“They do a great job of playing off each other,” Westbrook said.

Adams had 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and Kanter finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The duo helped the Thunder to 56.6 percent shooting from the field, a 60-36 advantage on points in the paint and a 42-38 edge in rebounding.

“I thought tonight, on both ends of the floor, we played at a high level,” coach Billy Donovan said.

Dwyane Wade led Chicago with 22 points, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15. Cristiano Felicio finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls had won three in a row and five of seven, but they were no match for the Thunder with Jimmy Butler hampered by an illness. The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week had one point on 0-for-6 shooting and seven assists.

“I appreciate him coming out and giving it a shot. That says a lot about him, as a competitor, but he was really struggling, obviously,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Butler was sent home after he left the game in the third quarter, and Hoiberg said Butler will not play Tuesday night against Washington. Wade, who turns 35 on Jan. 17, also will rest against the Wizards.

“Jimmy can’t put up 50 every night. We have to do better. We have to support him a lot better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said.

Gibson’s three-point play off a slick pass from Wade got Chicago within 10 with 6:51 left in the third, but Westbrook helped the Thunder put it away from there.

The dynamic point guard threw an alley-oop to Adams and then found the center for a layup. Westbrook set up Andre Roberson for a 3-pointer and a cutting dunk. Kanter added a driving layup with 54 seconds left, helping Oklahoma City to an 89-67 lead after three.

GRANT VS GRANT

Brothers Jerami and Jerian Grant faced off. Jerian Grant had 11 points in 21 minutes for the Bulls. Jerami Grant played 16 minutes for the Thunder and finished with seven points.

“Whenever I get to play against him, it’s great to see him,” Jerami Grant said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting. … G Cameron Payne played almost 15 minutes in his second game of the season after being sidelined by a right foot injury. … The Thunder had lost four straight road games.

Bulls: G Rajon Rondo did not play on his bobblehead night. The veteran guard hasn’t played since Dec. 30 against Indiana, and it’s unclear when or if he will return to Hoiberg’s rotation. … Rookie G Denzel Valentine missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.

 

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.