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Westbrook has 51-point triple double, Harden has help so Rockets win Game 2

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Wednesday night’s game summed up the Thunder this season. And it summed up why Oklahoma City is outclassed in this series by Houston — Russell Westbrook had the first 50-point triple-double in playoff history. However, he was tired and inefficient late, and his 14 missed shots in the fourth quarter was also an NBA record. Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch — their star James Harden had 35, but in the fourth quarter he got plenty of help.

That’s why Houston is up 2-0 in this series after a 115-111 victory at home, as the series heads back to Oklahoma City for Game 3.

Wednesday’s loss feels like a punch to the gut of the Thunder because they got a big Westbrook night, they had 14 point lead in the second half, and it wasn’t enough.

The first half saw the Westbrook that the Thunder wanted and the Westbrook the rest of the NBA feared — Westbrook had 22 points and 10 assists in the first 24 minutes. More importantly, he opened things up and got his teammates going — Oklahoma City had 10 more points in the paint than Houston, it had 12 second chance points, and it had seven blocked shots. OKC owned the paint. That successful team play started because Westbrook was doing stuff like this on both ends.

The fourth quarter was the flip-side of that coin.

A tired Westbrook just kept jacking up shots, many of them bad ones, and he shot 4-of-18 for the quarter, including 1-of-7 from three. After the Thunder had taken the lead back at 100-99 with 4:14 remaining, Westbrook missed his next seven shots. While that happened, the Rockets went on a run that sealed the game. Check out Westbrook’s fourth-quarter shot chart.

Why didn’t coach Billy Donovan rest Westbrook in the fourth? Because when he sat Westbrook for 2:21 at the end of the third the Rockets outscored the Thunder by nine and changed the complexion of the game.

More important than the poor shooting, and unlike the first half, Westbrook was not getting his teammates involved, so they started standing around and watching the show, which was a stark contrast to the Rockets who played with a team energy. How much of the OKC offensive stagnation is on Westbrook and how much of that falls on his teammates depends on which side of the chicken-egg debate you stand on, but the Westbrook one-man show did work well for them in a lot of close games this season. Wednesday night, in the glare of the postseason spotlight, it did not.

What is undebatable is the Rockets started their crucial 10-0 early fourth-quarter run with Harden sitting on the bench. Harden was rested at the end, Westbrook was tired and pulling up for shots (so the Rockets switched the longer Trevor Ariza on him to contest looks). The Rockets also got better defense in the fourth, particularly in the paint from Clint Capella, who had multiple stops when it mattered.

Harden certainly had a good night, scoring 35 points and getting to the line at will. But he went just 2-of-4 from the floor in the fourth while Eric Gordon was 4-of-7 for 11 points and Patrick Beverley was 3-of-3 for eight in the quarter. Houston had balance, they had a team effort on both ends.

And with that, those Rockets have a 2-0 series lead.

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.