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.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.