Timberwolves snap Blazers’ 6-game streak, 110-109

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —  As Karl-Anthony Towns powered through Portland’s smaller frontcourt, the Trail Blazers found out just how much they’re going to miss big man Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch.

Towns had 34 points and 12 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak with a 110-109 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

It was the second game for Portland without Nurkic, who galvanized the team after coming over in a trade from Denver at the deadline.

He will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured right leg, leaving the Blazers to battle big frontcourts in San Antonio, Utah and one more time against Minnesota without him and just a 1 1/2-game cushion on Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“There’s a lot of good bigs out there, and we’re thin right now. We’ve got Meyers (Leonard) and (Al-Farouq Aminu), who’s not really a five,” C.J. McCollum said. “So we’re in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to go out there and play and make the best of it.”

Damian Lillard scored 25 points but made just 7 of 21 shots, including 3 of 11 3-pointers. His potential game-winning pull-up jumper at the buzzer glanced off the rim.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to Sacramento that eliminated them from postseason contention on Saturday.

“They’re playing small, we have a big who can guard smalls and play like a big at the other end,” Rubio said of Towns. “That’s big for us.”

Aminu scored 20 points and Maurice Harkless had 17 points, eight rebounds and a big block of a Rubio drive that gave the Blazers the ball back with 4.9 seconds to play.

Lillard got a clean look, but couldn’t knock it down and Portland missed a golden chance to pad its lead on Denver in a tense race.

The Blazers beat lowly Phoenix in their first game without Nurkic and went super-small on Monday against the Wolves with Aminu and Harkless seeing some time at center.

The sleek lineup put the Blazers in control with a 34-point second quarter, but the 7-foot Towns had his way in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the period, including a big dunk for a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to go.

“We just had a hard time,” Lillard said. “Guys competed hard on him. We made it as hard as we could on him, but he’s very good and he’s going to score points. That’s what happened.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts was the Western Conference coach of the month and Lillard was the conference’s player of the month as Portland finished March at 13-3. … Lillard’s first 3 of the game in the third quarter gave him 200 for the season, the third time he’s done that in his career. Wes Matthews is the only other Blazers player to do it even one time.

Timberwolves: Brandon Rush scored 12 points, giving him back-to-back double-digit efforts for the first time since Jan. 11-13. … Rubio hit a technical free throw in the third quarter after the Blazers were whistled for defensive 3 seconds. It was his 49th straight technical free throw made, the longest active streak in the league.

MCCOLLUM STRUGGLES

McCollum struggled as well, scoring 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 0 for 3 on 3s. He scored 43 and 32 points in his first two games against the Wolves.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive at certain times,” he said.

MAKEUP GAME

Both teams are set up for difficult back-to-backs because this game had to be shoe-horned into the schedule. It was originally scheduled to be played on March 6, but an ice sheet that was placed under the court so Target Center could host a college hockey tournament started to melt due to unseasonably warm weather. That caused condensation on the court that could not be corrected, so the league postponed the game.

 

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.

Bulls: No decision yet on Rajon Rondo’s future with team

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are not ready to say whether veteran point guard Rajon Rondo will be back for a second season.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson says that “is still to be determined.” The Bulls can pay Rondo $13.4 million or buy him out for $3 million by Friday’s deadline.

Paxson spoke Tuesday during a news conference to introduce newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, who were acquired from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Bulls were planning to meet Tuesday with Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, who represents LaVine.

Paxson also says a buyout on Dwyane Wade after he exercised his $23.8 million option “has not been broached.” Paxson says the Bulls, at least for now, assume Wade will play for Chicago.

Report: Chris Paul met with Clipper officials to talk future of franchise, himself

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Chris Paul is going to talk to a lot of teams this summer, but if you ask people around the league, most seem to think he will re-sign with the Clippers. The ultimate reason is money: As president of the players’ union he helped steer the new CBA negotiations, which included changing the “over 36 rule” — limiting max contracts to players who turn 36 during the time of the deal — into the “over 38 rule.” That meant 32-year-old Paul could sign one more five-year max contract.

Paul also wants to win, and it’s hard to see how the assembled team in Los Angeles — which is certainly a top 5-7 NBA team, maybe a little higher when healthy — picks up a ring. Especially with the Golden State juggernaut not going anywhere.

Paul has started talking to the Clippers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

I doubt that discussion was much about money — the Clippers will offer a five-year max contract. That’s not even up for debate.

The discussion was how to build the Clippers into a contender. Will Blake Griffin, also a free agent, be back and be part of that? What about J.J. Redick? Can the Clippers get the cap space to lure huge free agents in 2018? LeBron James reportedly wants to come to Los Angeles, although whether he wants to be a Clipper is another question. (For the record, I don’t buy the idea LeBron would “never” be a Clipper. While it may be highly unlikely, people I have spoken to around the league closer to LeBron’s thinking say he wants to keep every option open, play out next season, then see where things stand. He would not fully rule out playing with Chris Paul, who could still be in L.A.)

The Clippers have backed themselves into a corner by trading away picks for veterans, and not developing young players into guys who can contribute in the rotation. When was the last time the Clippers had their Patrick McCaw or Dewayne Dedmon? Without those young, affordable players, it becomes hard to put a good roster together and keep it together. It’s part of what Jerry West — with some help from GM Lawrence Frank — need to bring to Doc Rivers’ Clippers.

That’s likely part of the discussion, too.

There’s a lot for the sides to talk about.

Michael Jordan sent Russell Westbrook personal MVP congratulatory note

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Russell Westbrook is one of the biggest stars in the NBA, he’s now an MVP, and he wears Jordan Brand Nikes.

Still, it has to be a bit humbling to get a personal, signed note from Michael Jordan himself.

Which is exactly what he got on Tuesday, a congratulatory note from the GOAT.

The note said (in all caps):

Congrats Russell.

I got buy first MVP award before my first ring, too… keep going!

It was then signed by Jordan.

Westbrook could probably fill a second home with memorabilia from his career, but this is one he’s likely going to keep safe.