Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook on doorstep of history

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We know you were busy Sunday, doing things like making your ham and cheese sandwich look like Vin Diesel, so you may have missed out on the day’s NBA action. We’ve got your back, here are the big takeaways from Sunday around the league.

1) Russell Westbrook steps to the doorstep of history with 40th triple-double of the season, but Thunder fall to Hornets. When Russell Westbrook racks up a triple-double, the Thunder usually win: They are 31-9 when he gets one, 12-24 when he falls short.

He got another one on Sunday — his sixth straight — scoring 40 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. That’s 40 triple-doubles this season for Westbrook, just one shy of Oscar Robertson’s NBA record with six games left. It was another impressive night, and now Westbrook is just 11 rebounds and 29 assists short of clinching a triple-double season average.

All that wasn’t enough to get the win Sunday against Charlotte, the first time in nine years the Hornets beat the Thunder in OKC. Kemba Walker led the way with 29 points. The Hornets are now just one game back of Miami for the final playoff slot in the East, this is a team that has played much better than its record this year (they have the point differential of a 41-36 team) and sneaking into the postseason would be a little bit of justice.

This loss, plus the Clippers win streak, means sixth-seed Oklahoma City is not going to catch Los Angeles for the five seed. OKC needs some more wins to stay ahead of Memphis in the seven seed, just a game-and-a-half back of the Thunder.

Westbrook’s triple-double wasn’t the only one Sunday — Golden State left it’s starters in late in a win over the Wizards and ran plays for Draymond Green to get him the triple-double. The Wizards’ complained, but to them I’d say “if you don’t like it, stop them.” However, Nate Duncan made a great point talking to Warriors fans.


2) LeBron James and Paul George put on a show in double-overtime Cavaliers win.
The Cavaliers had been coasting lately, playing uninspired games because it didn’t look or feel like the playoffs yet. Paul George made sure it did on Sunday, dropping 43, and LeBron James woke up and responded with 41 of his own (to go with 16 rebounds and 11 assists).

The result was a double-overtime thriller that the Cavaliers eventually won 135-130. In the long grind of the NBA season, this was one of the most entertaining games we’ve seen.

With the win Cleveland remains just half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East, and the teams are tied in the loss column. With the loss, the Pacers are now tied with the Heat for the final playoff slot in the East, Indiana is in real danger of missing out on the postseason altogether. Which is not going to make George happy (and that has implications heading into the summer).

3) Derrick Rose is done for the season, but the real question is what happens to free agent Rose this summer? Derrick Rose had missed a couple of games with what the Knicks had termed a “sore knee,” but after getting an MRI they found a torn meniscus that will require surgery. Obviously, that end’s Rose’s season, he’s going to need 6-8 weeks to recover.

What does another knee surgery mean for Rose as he heads into free agency this summer? Since his MVP season, Rose has never played in more than 66 games in a season (64 this season), and yes that’s going to color teams’ thinking. I would be shocked if any team offered Rose more than two guaranteed years. I doubt a good team would offer him more than $12 million a year (and that may be the top end).

In our PBT Podcast a few weeks back, Derrick Rose’s agent B.J. Armstrong echoed his player and said what mattered most to Rose was winning. Everyone says that, of course, but when the time comes they want money and a significant role on a team. If Rose really cared about winning more than anything else, I could see him taking a two-year deal with a contender to come off the bench and lead a second unit (like Rajon Rondo has done since the All-Star break in Chicago). Rose is still a solid NBA point guard, but if he wants to be a starter and have the ball in his hands, he’s not heading to a team that’s a real playoff threat — the teams that can offer him that chance are not in a good spot.

The knee injury will certainly impact Rose’s summer options, but what matters most is what kind of team Rose really wants to be on, what kind of role he’s willing to play, and how much money he’s willing to sacrifice to win.

David West pump fakes past one Trail Blazer, posterizes another (video)

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David West is 37 years old.

Three Things to Know: Rockets extend win streak to 10, Thunder… not so much

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s a roundup of Monday night’s action you might have missed while paying for a $14,000 Uber ride.

1) Rockets fall behind in a shootout, but come back from 13 down late in the third to extend win streak to 10. This was as good a game as the Pelicans could play without Anthony Davis — they put up 103 points on 58.7 percent shooting and hitting 17 threes. DeMarcus Cousins was a beast in the paint, while Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc. Late in the third the Pelicans were up 13, and they were up 10 at the start of the fourth.

It was not enough.

James Harden had 12 points in the fourth (and finished the game with a career-high 17 assists).

Chris Paul added 11 in the fourth, and the Rockets stormed back winning the fourth 37-20 and the game 130-123, extending their win streak to 10 games.

The Rockets are 21-4 and are outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions this season — they are the best team in the NBA right now. CP3 and Harden mesh on offense — the Rockets are +7.8 points per 100 when they are on the court together — and Houston surprisingly has the fifth best defense in the NBA this season. None of this is a fluke. This team is playing hard right now, establishing an identity, and establishing themselves as a contender.

Can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a seven-game series? I am not going that far, I think there are things that can be exploited in a series, but we are five months away from the Rockets needing to answer that question. What Houston has shown is it is the team best suited to challenge Golden State — the Rockets can play at pace and thrive, they have multiple elite scoring playmakers (and coach Mike D’Antoni staggers them so one is almost always on the court), they have a switchable defense that can attack the Warriors wings, and they have the right mindset. GM Daryl Morey put together a team to go after the Warriors, and he did it better than anyone. They are a legit threat to the title holders, and the Rockets should only get better as the season moves along.

2) Celtics lose with Kyrie Irving out. Thunder lose because… you tell me? There were a couple of upsets Monday night in the NBA, but only one was easy to excuse.

The lowly Chicago Bulls have not been quite so lowly the past week, winning three straight games, the latest one handily against the Boston Celtics 108-85. Credit best friends Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis (*cough*) who combined for 47 points, plus the improved play of Kris Dunn lately continued as he had a dozen points. We would normally call this a terrible loss for the Celtics, and you can be sure Brad Stevens didn’t like it, but with Kyrie Irving sitting out with a left quad contusion, there is at least a good reason for the off night.

There is no good reason for the Thunder — fully healthy — to lose at home to the Charlotte Hornets 116-103. The Hornets hit 13-of-25 from three, and Dwight Howard outplayed Steven Adams all night on his way to 23 points, Kemba Walker had 19 points and 9 assists, but this is the kind of game the Thunder should win. After a Russell Westbrook highlight slam over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the game was tied 66-66, but then the Hornets went on a 22-2 run. Of late, the Thunder looked like they were turning a corner with three straight wins, but then followed it up losing 2-of-3 now and needing to go to overtime against a shorthanded Grizzlies team to get that one win. Royce Young re-tweeted himself and hit the nail on the head.

There is no one thing wrong with the Thunder, but more and more focus is turning to Carmelo Anthony. Not just his lack of defense or his shooting slump — he had 11 points Monday and is shooting 33 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three his last five games — but the roster depth OKC gave up to get him. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have a grove together (the Thunder are +4.8 per 100 when they are paired) but things slow when Anthony is added to the mix and another star sits while Anthony plays. In ‘Melo’s last five games OKC is -1.8 per 100 with Anthony on the court.

The Thunder still have time, but each day the inconsistent play and losing get more concerning. As George said after the game, “We can say we’re going to figure it out, we can say all that, but at some point it’s got to stop.”

3) Matt Barnes retires. Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

For a lot of fans, mention Barnes and they think of the guy who tried to get in a fight with Derek Fisher. Or the New York nightclub incident with Cousins. Or the guy who was a pest on the court and seemed a magnet for technical fouls and fines from the league office. But Barnes was the kind of guy you wanted coming off the bench on your team and hated to play against — he went hard, he could shoot threes, he defended, and he brought a spark to the game. He was the kind of opponent you hate to go against.

Barnes was a second-round pick out of UCLA who played for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well after Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes was thrust into a larger role (the Warriors went on a 14-game win streak in that time).

While he had a rough exterior, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off for him. He’ll be missed by some of us, but he’s a guy ready for life after basketball.

Rockets’ Clint Capela dunks, blocks, plays DeMarcus Cousins to standstill (VIDEO)

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Welcome to Clint Capela‘s big night.

Going toe-to-toe with DeMarcus Cousins — who has been playing at an All-NBA level this season and had 24 and 14 on Monday night — the Rockets’ athletic big played Cousins to a standstill. Capela had a career-high 28 points on 13-of-14 from the field with most of his shots being dunks (every one of this shots was at the rim), plus he had five blocks, most of Cousins.

It was the best game the Swiss national has had as a pro, who also had eight rebounds on the night. Check out his big night above.

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis lead way, Bulls blow out Kyrie-less Celtics 108-85

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CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are starting to draw attention for their play together instead of their fight with each other.

Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA’s worst record, the Bulls (6-20) built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Leading the way were two players who made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the season started.

Their fight at practice left Mirotic with facial fractures, causing him to miss the first 23 games. Portis served an eight-game suspension.

But the two have played well together the past two games.

“We need to give the credit to (coach Fred Hoiberg),” Mirotic said. “Fred is the one who is making us play. He’s the guy who is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spots to play.”

As for the fight?

“Man, that situation’s over,” Portis said. “Everybody’s talking about that. But that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms and shot 9 of 14 with eight rebounds. Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 16.3 points.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston (23-6). Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics’ most lopsided loss of the season.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It was simple as that,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Chicago dictated the whole game. They played harder than we did. They played with more presence than we did. They played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”