Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook has heroics, Cavaliers have collapse

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There’s only a handful of days left in the NBA season, and the key games Sunday had meaning — either in the standings or personal. It was a wild day around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook breaks Oscar Robertson’s record with 42nd triple-double — and he wasn’t done being amazing. Russell Westbrook has played with a ferocity this season that is just hard to fathom. Yes, we all knew he’d put up numbers — he scored 50 points and put up an NBA record 42nd triple-double this season on Sunday in a win over Denver — but his relentlessness has been mind-blowing.

“To do what he’s done — both he and Harden, and to do it every night,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said shaking his head. “It’s a credit to him, and just being around him with Team USA, the spirit and competitiveness that he has, that drive, to do all the things that he has done and to still have that hunger and drive every year is amazing, it’s what makes him special.”

Here’s the thing — that 42nd triple-double may not have been the most impressive thing Westbrook did on Sunday. By the time he set the record the Thunder were mathematically locked into the sixth seed, and remember he had locked up averaging a triple-double for the season before this game even started. There was literally nothing left to play for and the Thunder were down by 13. Nearly every player in the league would have packed it in at that point.

Not Westbrook. He sparked and 18-4 run that included him scoring the final 13 points in the game, capped off by this game-winning three.

Go ahead and say he’s chasing stats, but the Thunder are 33-9 when Westbrook gets a triple-double and 13-25 when he doesn’t. He’s been clutch for them all season — he’s had nothing short of a legendary season.

BONUS THING WE LEARNED: The playoffs are now set in the West, because Westbrook’s three eliminated Denver from playoff contention. Your matchups are:

1. Golden State vs. 8. Portland
2. San Antonio vs. 7. Memphis
3. Houston vs. 6. Oklahoma City
4. L.A. Clippers vs. 5. Utah (home court in this not formally decided)

Yes, that means Harden vs. Westbrook in the NBA playoffs. Which means who should be MVP in the minds of a lot of fans will be influenced by a series that took place after the voting deadline.

2) How did the Cavaliers blow that lead? Cleveland was in cruise control, up 26 early in the fourth quarter and coasting in for a win over the Hawks. And then the wheels came off. Cleveland took its foot off the gas and Atlanta started to chip away. The Hawks got good bench play, once again that has proven a weakness for the Cavaliers.

Still, Cleveland was up 14 points with just 3:37 left, but the Hawks went on a run and the Cleveland starters fumbled. And still the Cavaliers were up five with 10 seconds left when LeBron James — who had a triple-double — was called for the foul on a Paul Millsap three. He sank all three free throws making it a two-point game with 8.3 left. Cleveland inbounded the ball to Kyrie Irving but the Hawks trapped him in the corner and Kent Bazemore was able to tie him up forcing a jump ball with 4.8 seconds left. In a scramble after the jump ball Mike Muscala came up with it, Millsap gut the shot and tied the game at the buzzer forcing overtime.

From there, the Hawks got the win.

After the game, the Cavaliers took issue with the officiating, but that’s not what cost them the game. Their bench, their lack of ability to focus for 48 minutes cost them. They flat-out were outplayed for a quarter. And it’s games like this that make you question if they can flip the switch in the postseason.

3) Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell drains game-winner, dedicates bucket to his grandmother who passed away that morning. D'Angelo Russell spent the day trying to book a flight to Louisville, playing for the Lakers Sunday night was the last thing on his mind. He found out that morning his grandmother had passed away in Louisville, and he said he looked into booking a flight and going to be with family. Except he couldn’t get one he could make. Eventually, at the urging of his family, he decided to play Sunday night and head out Monday.

The Lakers needed him — Russell’s game-winning bounced through the rim just as time expired, giving the Lakers the win, 110-109. After the shot, Russell ran over to hug his family.

“I knew (playing was) what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said. “My dad, brothers, and everyone wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball. I didn’t want to express myself through basketball but it was the only option I had and I tried to take advantage of it.”

“I get goosebumps even talking about the way the game ended,” coach Luke Walton said. “How awesome for him on such a tough day where obviously basketball is nothing in the big picture of what he’s dealing with.”

LeBron James once saved someone while snorkeling with Dwyane Wade

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LeBron James is one of those guys who seems like he can do it all. He’s been league champion, league MVP, and Finals MVP. He’s an international marketing icon. He’s the best basketball player of a generation.

Apparently, he can also save people from the water like a dang superhero.

The recent article published on Vogue about James and his wife Savannah, the author shared a story told to him by Gabrielle Union, actress and wife of Dwyane Wade.

As Union tells the story, during a snorkeling trip in the Bahamas, Lebron noticed one person wasn’t back in the boat at the end of the session.

He then leapt in to bring them back.

Via Vogue:

As I prepare to say goodbye, I am reminded of a story Gabrielle Union told me about LeBron. Union and her husband, Dwyane Wade, with other friends and athletes, were out snorkeling in the Bahamas a few years back. Some, including Wade, were ocean-shy, city-born and not as strong at swimming as LeBron. (“LeBron, it turns out, is Aquaman!” Union says.) Eventually, the group got out in the water, though at the end of the swim, when everyone was back in the boat, LeBron took a count and noticed a man missing, immediately diving back in. “He literally brings our friend back, like something out of an episode of Baywatch,” Union says. “Because he’s that guy, and when you see that, you know he is not going to leave these at-risk kids behind or an NBA player snorkeling. He’s that guy who dives in.”

Lebron James: that dude.

Watch the 10 best plays from Andrew Wiggins’ 2016-17 season (VIDEO)

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This upcoming season will be a huge test for Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins.

After a couple years of steady improvement, it appeared that Wiggins started to level off in his third season. Yes, he increased his 3-point shooting percentage but dips in his free-throw rate and VORP were a tad disappointing considering his usage even as he contributed more points per-game. Many in Minnesota expected him to be a superstar, and now it’s possible he ends up simply as a perennial rotation guy.

Still, the new season for the Timberwolves should be pretty interesting as they have added new pieces to the roster, including former Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler.

The video above includes 10 of Wiggins’s best plays from the 2016-17 NBA season. Hopefully Wiggins will be able to build on this type of play as the roster around him and gets better and expectations rise.

Report: Clippers to offer GM job to Thunder assistant Michael Winger

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Doc Rivers no longer has the hammer on trades and player moves in Los Angeles, that has been wisely handed over to Lawrence Frank, the team’s new president of basketball operations. He has Jerry West as a consultant — who will have the owner’s ear — working with him.

Frank now has a new right-hand guy, one of the better respected, up-and-coming front office people in the league, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The LA Clippers have offered Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger its general manager’s job, league sources told ESPN. A deal could be finalized soon, league sources said…

Winger, 37, has spent the past seven years with Oklahoma City, working closely with Executive Vice President and GM Sam Presti.

ESPN’s Thunder reporter Royce Young chipped in with this.

This is a good hire by the Clippers, bringing a smart young executive from a well-respected organization into the fold to help energize their front office.

This past summer the Clippers lost Chris Paul (traded to Houston, because he was leaving as a free agent otherwise), locked up Blake Griffin long-term, and now have to decide on a future direction. DeAndre Jordan has a player option next summer, do the Clippers want to max him out or move another direction? The Clippers need to inject some younger, more athletic players into their roster and move out of the win-now, trade youth for vets mode Rivers had them in. The Clippers have done a poor job developing young talent and using that to supplement their stars (something teams like the Warriors and Spurs have done well over the years).

Winger should help change that dynamic.

LeBron James’ best play from every game in 2016-17 (VIDEO)

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I’m not sure it’s possible to argue that LeBron James is not the most important player in the NBA, even in 2016-17.

Yes, others have won the MVP award in years past, but each and every postseason you understand just how important LeBron is to every roster he is on. NBA players even voted him as the player they would most secretly want on their team.

That’s why it’s pretty easy to galvanize that opinion when you watch a 20-minute highlight video of LeBron’s best plays from each game of the past season.

Summer is upon us and even preseason seems like a long way off. Thankfully, we will be able to get to see plays like this here in what feels like the near future.