Associated Press

Three things we learned Thursday: Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas put on shows

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Maybe you were too busy to watch the NBA action on Thursday night because you were getting your hair cut by lighting it on fire. That happens. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook with triple-double leads Thunder past Cavaliers. Now bring on Kevin Durant, Warriors.
There were two key factors in this Oklahoma City upset of a Cavaliers team that had been playing well. The first is that this was the second night of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Cavaliers, and it showed. In the first quarter you could see the sloppy play — particularly on the defensive end — from Cleveland, something that would return many times over in the fourth quarter. On offense, they didn’t have the legs we had seen even the night before in Indiana. The Cavaliers can call this a “schedule makers loss” and move on.

The other was Russell Westbrook.

Early in the game he drove to set up teammates — Westbrook had five first quarter assists — while Victor Oladipo had seven points in the frame and Steven Adams six. Also, just like in the first meeting Westbrook the trouble he had scoring inside against Cleveland and Tristan Thompson (3-of-9 shooting inside 8 feet in this game) so he found spots on the floor where he could get knock down looks — left elbow extended, free throw line, straight on threes. The end result was 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. That’s his 26th triple-double of the season, for those of you scoring at home.

Other Thunder players were making contributions as well. Victor Oladipo finished with 23 points, Steven Adams 20, Cameron Payne is back and had a nice 15 off the bench, and Andre Roberson did this to LeBron James.

For the Thunder, next up is Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Saturday night (OKC also catches Golden State on the second night of a back-to-back and third game in four nights).

One bright spot for the Cavaliers, Derrick Williams had 12 points in his debut for the team on a 10-day contract. The guy picked No. 2 right behind Kyrie Irving in the 2011 draft brings some skills to the table, he can drive and score in the paint, and he can knock down corner threes. However, he’s been inconsistent on offense and terrible on defense. There’s a reason the Heat waived him to make room for a D-League call-up. But he gets another chance on a Cavaliers team looking for playmakers, we’ll see if this is finally a fit for him.

2) Another dominant fourth quarter from Isaiah Thomas, another win for Boston. He is the best fourth quarter scorer in the NBA right now, and he did it again Thursday night. Isaiah Thomas was getting to the rim on his way to scoring 15 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, leading Boston to a road win in a game where Portland led by 17 at one point in the first half. There may be no more dynamic player to watch in the league right now than Thomas.

Also making plays late was Marcus Smart — he had a key steal, poking the ball away from Al-Farouq Aminu, then he had an impressive put-back off an Al Horford miss when Boston needed it late.

Portland is eight games below .500 and is a game out of the playoffs in the West. How is a team with this much talent on the roster out of the playoffs?

3) Is he the clutch Sixer? T.J. McConnell with another game winner for Philly. The best news for Philadelphia fans out of the come-from-behind win in Orlando was that Dario Saric had 24 points — he is looking like a player, a guy who can be the stretch four next to Joel Embiid who makes the whole thing come together for this team.

But when the game was on the line, it was once again T.J. McConnell with the game winner, a little floater in the lane. He’s becoming Mr. Clutch for this team.

LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.


Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson has another surgery, will miss entire season now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans say rookie guard Frank Jackson won’t make his NBA debut this season after having follow-up surgery to remove residual scar tissue from earlier right foot operations.

The Pelicans say Jackson also received an injection in his foot.

The club says a specialist in New York handled Jackson’s latest procedure.

The Pelicans acquired the 6-foot-4 Jackson through a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the former Duke player with the first pick of the second round last summer.

Following the draft, the Pelicans signed Jackson to a three-year contract at the NBA minimum with two years guaranteed, but Jackson needed a second foot surgery last summer to address a setback following his initial surgery last May.

Jackson spent one season at Duke, averaging 10.9 points.


Giannis Antetokounmpo turns bad pass into ridiculous alley-oop (VIDEO)

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That is just not fair.

Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo that was off the mark — high and behind him — but it just doesn’t matter. The Greek Freak gets up and throws it down.

It’s early, but it’s going to be hard to beat that one for dunk of the night.

League’s Last Two Minute Report backs referees (mostly) in Raptors/Thunder game

Associated Press

Anyone who watched the Thunder’s win over the Raptors Sunday afternoon in Toronto — especially the final few minutes — thought it was not referee Marc Davis and crew’s finest hour. There were missed calls and three-straight ejections of Raptors players, which all seemed rather hair-trigger (especially coach Dwane Casey, who was tossed for something a fan behind him said).

The NBA’s Last Two Minute report doesn’t see it that way — it says the referees nailed it.

According to the report, there was only one missed call in the final two minutes: Carmelo Anthony held Pascal Siakam as a pass came to him with 11.7 seconds left, and that should have been called.

What about the play that set DeMar DeRozan off and ultimately got him ejected, the drive to the basket with 33 seconds left (and the Raptors down two) where DeRozan thought Corey Brewer fouled him? The report said that was a good no call:

DeRozan (TOR) starts his drive and Brewer (OKC) moves laterally in his path and there is contact. The contact is incidental as both players attempt to perform normal basketball moves….

RHH shows Brewer (OKC) make contact with the ball and the part of DeRozan’s (TOR) hand that is on the ball. The hand is considered “part of the ball” when it is in contact with the ball and therefore, contact on that part of the hand by a defender while it is in contact with the ball is not illegal.

(I didn’t see it that way, I think the contact was more than incidental, and to me looking at the replay Brewer catches some wrist and impedes the shot in a way that was not legal. Just my two cents.)

The report does not cover the ejections, which are reviewed by league operations but not part of this report.

Three thoughts out of all this:

1) Raptors fans/management/players have every right to feel the calls went against them in this game. As for calls always going against them — as DeRozan complained about after the game — 29 other teams and fan bases are convinced the officials have it out for them, too. I never bought that.

2) The Raptors didn’t lose this game solely because of the officiating. Russell Westbrook was clutch down the stretch, the Thunder were part of it, and the Raptors had other issues, too (Serge Ibaka had a rough game, for example).

3) This loss also does not say a thing about the Raptors in the postseason (even if they went a little too much isolation at the end) — this was their third game in four days, they looked tired and flat at the end. That will not be the case in the playoffs.