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Russell Westbrook grabs another triple-double as Thunder top Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds in three quarters for his 34th triple-double of the season as the Oklahoma City Thunder registered their fourth consecutive win with a 123-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night.

The league’s leading scorer moved closer to the NBA’s single-season record for triple-doubles, 41 set by Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season.

Victor Oladipo added 23 points as the Thunder split the season series with the Raptors, the fourth straight year the teams have done so.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points for the Raptors, while Serge Ibaka had 10 points against his former team.

The Thunder never trailed, and pushed their lead to a game-high 32 with 5:07 to play in the fourth quarter as Toronto emptied its bench. Though the Raptors closed the gap to 19 with 1:21 to go, Oklahoma City had little trouble in closing out the game from there.

After taking the lead on Steven Adams‘ hook shot 1:09 in, the Thunder surged with 7:17 to play in the first, using a 12-2 run to take a 29-24 lead after 12 minutes.

Having scored just two points in the first quarter, Westbrook had 10 in the second as Oklahoma City increased its edge to 14. DeRozan then had the final four points of the quarter to reduce the deficit to 58-48 at the half.

DeRozan picked up where he left off after the intermission, registering 14 points in the third quarter. However, the Thunder responded through Westbrook and Oladipo, who had 12 and 11 points respectively, as Oklahoma City pushed its advantage to a 97-70 entering the final quarter.

Westbrook secured his triple-double with his 10th rebound with 3:56 to play in the third, and was removed with 1:59 to go, and didn’t play in the fourth quarter.

TIP-INS

Thunder: The victory tied the Thunder’s season high by going 10 games over .500. … Oklahoma City improved to 28-6 this season when Westbrook registers a triple-double, and 61-10 during his career. … Westbrook’s 16 assists beat the Raptors’ team total of 15. … All five of Oklahoma City’s starters registered double-digit points.

Raptors: G Kyle Lowry (right wrist) missed his 11th straight game since the All-Star break, with the team going 6-5 without him during that stretch. … F DeMarre Carroll returned after missing the past two games with a sprained left ankle.

KYLE ON COURSE

Lowry continued his recovery from right wrist surgery this week, returning to New York City for what coach Dwane Casey termed a “regular” two-week check-up.

“It’s on schedule, on time, but still no timetable or anything like that,” he said, “but everything checked out and it’s where it should be right now.”

BILLY’S BLISS

Heading off any rumors, Thunder coach Billy Donovan – a two-time NCAA champion with Florida – said that despite the opening at Indiana University following Thursday’s firing of Tom Crean, he’s more than happy in Oklahoma City.

“I feel bad (for Crean), but I am totally happy here, I love it here,” he said. “I love the guys I work with every day, I love our staff, the organization. So as far as I’m concerned, my commitment is totally here doing the best job I can while I’m here.”

UP NEXT

Thunder: Host Sacramento on Saturday, aiming to improve on their 14-1 record at home against the Kings during the franchise’s time in Oklahoma City.

Raptors: At Detroit on Friday for the first of two visits to the Palace of Auburn Hills this season.

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.