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.”

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.