Thunder’s Russell Westbrook focused on playoffs, not historic season

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Shortly after the Thunder wrapped up their regular-season finale, Russell Westbrook grew weary of talking about individual accolades.

The Thunder guard happily answered questions about Oscar Robertson’s MVP endorsement , and he answered a few questions about his record 42 triple-doubles in the regular season before his mood soured. When he was asked about winning his second scoring title in three years , he hesitated, then simply replied: “Next question.”

Westbrook understands none of that matters now.

He is squarely focused on what’s ahead: the Thunder’s playoff series with Houston that begins Sunday night – and postseason success.

“The group of guys that we have, especially going into the playoffs – we’ve got to make sure we come ready to play, because we know they’re (Houston) going to be ready,” he said.

Westbrook has gone into most of the high-stakes games in his career with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka at his side. But Durant left for Golden State in free agency last summer, and Ibaka, one of the league’s best defensive players for much of his career in Oklahoma City, now plays for Toronto.

Westbrook will have to help one of the youngest teams in the NBA get acclimated to playoff basketball. He said there won’t be any special conversations about what to expect.

“Just play, man,” Westbrook said. “Best thing you can do. It’s what I did. Just go out and compete at a high level, and the game will tell you what to do. Obviously, the stakes are higher, but at the same time, still got to put the ball in the hole. Still the same basketball, same court. I just go out and compete.”

Still, this journey will be much different for Westbrook.

“I think he’s excited from a leadership role to try to help guys that don’t have that kind of experience, haven’t been through it or are going through it for the first time, to try to help those guys,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he’ll be the same as he always is. As the season’s gone on, I really haven’t seen a whole lot of change in Russell from the first day of training camp to now.”

Westbrook doesn’t want to talk about the triple-doubles, but they are a critical component for the Thunder. Oklahoma City went 33-9 this season when Westbrook registered a triple-double and 13-26 when he didn’t. The Thunder are 4-1 all-time in the playoffs when Westbrook gets a triple-double.

He’s facing another player who gets triple-doubles in bunches. James Harden, Westbrook’s former teammate in Oklahoma City, collected 22 this season.

It’s the most intriguing first-round series of the playoffs.

Westbrook said the fact that Oklahoma City is matching up Harden does add a little something to the matchup. They are the front-runners for the MVP award, and they last played together for the Thunder in 2011-12, when Oklahoma City lost to Miami in the NBA Finals.

“It’s definitely cool,” Westbrook said. “It’s a great experience. Something that we can talk about later on down the line. Definitely, it’s good.”

The Thunder have played relatively well against Harden this season, holding him to 20.5 points per game on 34 percent shooting in the four meetings. Westbrook said there are other threats for the Rockets, who set the NBA record for 3-pointers made this season. Harden, Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza each made at least 110 3-pointers this season.

“Obviously, they’re a great offensive team,” Westbrook said. “Transition, they do a great job of getting threes. You’ve got to protect the 3-point line.”

Westbrook has lit up the Rockets, averaging 36.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in four meetings, but Houston has won three of the four games.

Westbrook averaged 34.6 minutes per game in the regular season and shouldered a large amount of the load for the team, especially late in close games. He isn’t sure how Donovan will manage his minutes in the playoffs.

“I just go out when my name is called,” he said. “I go on the floor and play.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

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.