Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Are we taking Westbrook’s destruction of NBA for granted?

3 Comments

Well, this was inevitable (just like the Steve Harvey jokes), but also damn funny.

Sunday around the NBA, everyone who earned a win was announced as such, here are the three big takeaways.

1) Have we started to take Russell Westbrook’s destruction of the league for granted? Sunday Russell Westbrook had 41 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists — his fourth 40-point triple double of the season— and enough highlight plays to fill his own segment on SportsCenter. Yawn.

On the season he is averaging 31 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 10.3 assists per game, he’s very likely going to be the first player in five decades to average a triple-double over the course of a season. Whatever.

It seems like we’ve become numb to what Russell Westbrook is doing this season. He has 29 triple-doubles, he is carrying the Thunder to the playoffs (they are on pace to win 47 games). When he is on the court, the Thunder outscore their opponents by three points per 100 possessions, when he sits they get outscored by 10.5. Sunday against the Pelicans he scored 21 of his points in the fourth quarter when his team needed the buckets to get the win.

We can’t do that — we are never going to see another season like this. Westbrook has been nothing short of phenomenal. Does he occasionally hunt triple doubles? Sure, but he’s actually in the position to hunt them, and his team gets wins because of it. Is he turning the ball over more than coach Billy Donovan would like? Sure. It’s not like has the ball in his hands every time down and is the only reliable shot creator on the team… oh, wait, it’s exactly like that.

Step back and savor this. It’s a season for the ages.

2) The flip side of item No. 1: Pelicans lose again, DeMarcus Cousins picks up technical 32 seconds in and will miss next game. Since the trade that was going to turn their season around, the New Orleans Pelicans have lost three in a row — the latest Sunday to Westbrook and the Thunder — and slid farther out of the playoff picture in the West, 3.5 games back of Denver (they could make up the ground, but they need to leapfrog four teams now to do it). Cousins also picked up technical No. 18 just 32 seconds into the loss Sunday for a silly retaliation move on Steven Adams — meaning Cousins is suspended for the Pelicans upcoming game against the Pistons (after 16 techs you sit out for every other one).

New Orleans is not a playoff team, not this season. They aren’t turning this around fast enough. We knew it would take a little time for Cousins and Anthony Davis to mesh, and was painfully obvious in this game: Davis scored 24 in the first, Cousins zero; then in the second quarter it flipped and Cousins had 19 while Davis scored zero. At the end of the game Davis and Cousins combined for 69 points, the next highest Pelican player had 10. Cousins is putting up numbers — he has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds per game since coming over — but the Pelicans are not a team yet. And may not be until next season.

3) Jusuf Nurkic is tougher than you — has two teeth knocked out, stays in game. We found out after the game they were two crowns, but still. Nurkic, a new Blazer since the trade deadline, fouled Toronto’s P.J. Tucker with a couple of hands to the back, but as they came down Tucker swung his arm and caught Nurkic in the face, knocking out some teeth/crowns (Tucker did get a technical for that).

The Raptors went on to win 112-106, behind 33 from DeMar DeRozan and a solid 18 and 10 from Serge Ibaka (who was key).

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

Leave a comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

1 Comment

Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.