Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Celebrating the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki

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You may have been busy Tuesday night learning to juggle so you can prove to cops you’re not driving under the influence. If so and you missed what was going on around the NBA, we’ve got you covered. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) The NBA celebrates the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki as he reaches the latest milestone in future Hall of Famers career.
He is the best shooting big man ever. He is the best European player in the NBA ever.

And now Dirk Nowitzki is only the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points in the NBA, which he did with a shot over the Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr.

It was vintage Nowitzki: He got to his spot, studied his options, and hit a fade-away jumper with that high release that no defender has a chance against.

With that, the love for Nowitzki poured in from all over the league, here’s just a taste.

And the love even came in from outside the NBA.

I will say about Nowitzki what I said about Kobe in his final years: Savor him while you can. Enjoy the one-legged fadeaways. Watch him, because there will never be another quite like him, and we are fortunate to get to watch him play. (The same applies to LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and the other greats of the game today.)

2) Russell Westbrook put up a ridiculous, career-high 58 points and it’s still not enough, Thunder lose fourth straight. It feels like this game summed up the Russell Westbrook MVP debate: He was unquestionably phenomenal putting up 58 points on 39 shots, while also dishing out nine assists. He was attacking the rim (he got to the line 16 times) and was finding open teammates when the shots weren’t there. Victor Oladipo returned from missing time with back spasms and added 16 points, but this was almost always the Westbrook show. Maybe no other player in the league could have pulled off this battering ram performance.

But it wasn’t enough to get the win. That’s the heart of the argument against Westbrook: James Harden — and if you want, Kawhi Leonard — are lifting their teams to higher heights, they are doing more to make their teammates better. The Thunder are on pace to win 45 games right now, and Marc Cuban has made the argument that many in the media will when voting comes: If your team didn’t win 50 games, you didn’t do enough to win the award.

I don’t think that’s fair: The Thunder were +7 in the 36 minutes Westbrook was on the court in this game, but -12 in the 12 minutes he rested. Westbrook’s value, by any measure, cannot be questioned.

The loss was because Oklahoma City could not stop Portland, which had an offensive rating of 130.1 for the night (points scored per 100 possessions). Portland had depth, it’s bench led by Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard turned the game, both at the start of the second quarter and again late in the third. Of course, Damian Lillard (22 points) and C.J. McCollum (21) got theirs, but down the stretch Jusuf Nurkic had a couple big buckets on his way to finishing with 17. This was a quality win for Portland, which is now 1.5 games back of eight-seed Denver in the West. The Blazers need wins to catch the Nuggets.

The debate around Westbrook for MVP — if he can maintain his triple-double for the season pace — will be just a broader discussion of what happened in this game.

3) Ejections and a gorilla running out into play? Just another night in Phoenix.
Let the record reflect that the Washington Wizards beat the Phoenix Suns on the road 131-127, thanks to 29 points from Bojan Bogdanovic (who has been a fantastic pickup for Washington).

But that wasn’t close to the interesting parts of the game. First, there was the ejection of Jared Dudley of Phoenix and Brandon Jennings of the Wizards for their part in this altercation that started after a Jason Smith pick on Tyler Ulis.

Dudley was ejected for the bump on Smith. Jennings makes a gun gesture with his fingers at Dudley during the scrum afterward and that gets him tossed. Fines (and maybe a suspension) are coming for them.

But that wasn’t the strangest part of the game — that was when the gorilla came onto the court during play. He’s clearly going to retrieve something that came onto the court, but still.

Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica fight, both get ejected (VIDEO)

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The Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers nearly got into a fight on Monday night after their game. The whole thing was a fiasco, and we don’t know the extent of that incident, but apparently it was just an amouse-bouche for Tuesday’s showdown between Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica.

During the matchup between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in Florida, the two wound up actually fighting during a play in the second quarter.

As both teams went to contest a rebound on a Jamal Crawford jumper, Bjelica appeared to rush directly at Afflalo as the smaller player tried to pass block.

Elbows and forearms were involved in the rebound attempt, and that’s what caused some actual swinging.

Via Twitter:

Afflalo’s big haymaker didn’t appear to make contact, and Bjelica sort of got the better of him by getting him in a headlock, ending the fight.

Both were ejected. No doubt Adam Silver and the league office will have their work cut out for them trying to parse this fight and whatever happened between Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, James Harden, Blake Griffin, and Austin Rivers.

Afflalo should get a couple of games for that big swing, and for being the main instigator. Bjelica got a good run at him for the rebound, but the first arms going up above the shoulders was all Afflalo.

It will probably also help Bjelica that once he had Afflalo in a headlock he put his other arm up, seemingly indicating he wanted to get out of the situation but didn’t want to let Afflalo go for fear of the fight continuing.

Players are heated lately, and there has been some discussion about whether new officiating styles by younger referees has led to players getting antsy with each other. We’ve heard that some of the newer refs aren’t talking with players as much, and perhaps that hasn’t let guys blow off steam throughout the course of the game and they’re taking it out on each other.

This is all very armchair psychology of me to speculate, but no doubt the conversation between the NBA, NBPA, and NBRA during the All-Star break regarding the officiating will be massively important.

Stephen Curry, Warriors lead league merchandise sales. Again.

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A few years ago, the Warriors were everybody’s darlings — they were the Brazilian soccer team of the NBA, everybody’s second-favorite squad because they play the beautiful game and did it with flair. However, sustained success in today’s world means people are going to turn on them — how dare they go and add a great player — and it’s become trendier to root against the Warriors and for the next hot thing. The Warriors didn’t change. That’s just the cycle of fame.

However, the trend has not slowed Warriors merchandise sales — they are still the top-selling team in the league, the NBA announced Tuesday. Stephen Curry is on top of the individual jersey sales. Both led the list last season, and Curry has been on top for a few years now.

Those next hot things — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid — are fast climbing the list. Those three rank behind the expected big three of Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

The NBA releases the jersey rankings based on NBAStore.com sales from last October through the end of 2017 (that’s not a perfect measure, but it’s representative). Here are the top 15 player jersey sales from NBA.com:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
9. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
12. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves

Antetokounmpo has steadily climbed the list the past couple seasons, but this is the first time Porzingis or Embiid appeared in the top 15. Same with Lonzo Ball at 11 (he’s sold more gear than Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson, which feels wrong).

As for team merchandise sales from NBA.com:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. New York Knicks
6. Milwaukee Bucks
7. Boston Celtics
8. San Antonio Spurs
9. Chicago Bulls
10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Jazz make it official: Thabo Sefolosha to have knee surgery, done for season

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This report had been out there for a few days, but on Tuesday the Utah Jazz made it official:

Swingman Thabo Sefolosha is going to have knee surgery. From the official release:

After further evaluation, Sefolosha (6-7, 220, Switzerland) has elected to undergo right knee surgery to repair an avulsion of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) which he suffered against Charlotte on Jan. 12. 

While the team would not put a timeline on this, he is done for this season.

Which is a blow to a Utah team that has battled injuries all season, most notably a couple of knee injuries to center Rudy Gobert. Sefolosha has been solid for the Jazz this season, averaging 8.2 points per game primarily off the bench, shooting 38 percent from three and playing solid defense in 21 minutes a night.

Joe Johnson will get more run, but this does not help the slim hopes of the Jazz to climb back into the playoff race.

Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan fined $15,000 for criticizing referees

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The Raptors lost to the Warriors on Saturday, and DeMar DeRozan – despite his own brilliant performance – was irked.

The Toronto guard seemed particularly upset about a review of an out-of-bounds call in the final seconds. After initially giving the ball to the Raptors, officials said it touched DeRozan while he was out of bounds and granted Golden State possession:

The NBA’s replay guidelines say (emphasis mine): “Referees can only initiate a review on a called out-of-bounds play (for example, not one where an out-of-bounds might have occurred) and only those involving doubt as to which player caused the ball to go out (not those, for example, where a player stepped on the line).”

DeRozan

I mean, it’s frustrating being out there feeling like you playing 5-on-8. It’s just what it feel like, period. Some of them calls was terrible, period.

I thought you couldn’t even do that. I’m not even a referee, and I know that rule. So, somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

The NBA corrected him in the two-minute report, saying “After communicating with the Replay Center, the ruling on the floor of Raptors possession is overturned and the Warriors are awarded possession because the ball touches DeRozan’s (TOR) leg while his body is out of bounds before Curry (GSW) knocks the ball out. Referees were able to review two aspects of this out-of-bounds play since they were part of the same sequence.”

Then, the league fined him.

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The comments were made following the Raptors’ 127-125 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Jan. 13

Saying “5-on-8” seems to be a secret code word for getting fined. I’m not sure whether the rest of DeRozan’s comments would have gotten him fined, but that phrase almost certainly did him in.