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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.

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.

O.G. Anunoby invited to NBA draft, Harry Giles declines

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The NBA’s invitations to the draft are a good indicator of when players will get drafted. The league samples executives, who are more likely to be honest here than in leaks to the media, about how they rank players. So, the list is worth monitoring.

The players who will attend tonight’s draft nearly match the leaks – with one exception. O.G. Anunoby is going, and Harry Giles isn’t.

Here are the players who will be at the draft – a reasonable placeholder for the players most likely to get picked in the top 20 – via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England:

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Harry Giles declined his invite sources told DraftExpress.

Did Giles decline his invite because, with his extensive injury history, he feared falling too far? Or did he just prefer to watch elsewhere?

Was Anunoby simply 21st on the NBA’s list of players to invite? Or was the league too unsure of his medical status to include him until getting a stronger grasp now?

I don’t know, but the possibility that Giles could slip or Anunoby is more secure alters my perception of their draft stock (Anunoby up, Giles down).

Report: Knicks’ asking price for Kristaps Porzingis ‘massive’

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What has Phil Jackson actually done? He discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis with other teams and called the Knicks, not Porzingis, his priority. That’s it.

At face value, this is fine. It’s what devoted executives, not always Jackson, should do.

Jackson hasn’t traded Porzingis for meager return. He hasn’t traded Porzingis at all.

Everyone up in arms should take a deep breath.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I wouldn’t rule out the Knicks trading Porzingis. The No. 1 pick got traded, after all. I wouldn’t rule out them trading Porzingis for too little return. Look at Jackson’s track record running the front office.

But wait until they do before bashing Jackson for not understanding Porzingis’ value.

There are plenty of better reasons to criticize Jackson, including overseeing the toxic culture that led to Porzingis skipping his exit interview and setting this latest “crisis” into motion. Publicly discussing trading Porzingis won’t endear Jackson to the budding star, but the problem is how it reached this point. Players in sound organizations can handle this. Jackson has engendered little confidence from his players, the distrust existed well before this round of trade talks.

Lonzo Ball recruits LeBron James to Lakers (video)

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Lonzo Ball doesn’t play for the Lakers. LeBron James isn’t a free agent.

But they’re headed that way – and Ball is already embracing it.

The Lakers are expected to draft Ball No. 2 tonight, and rumors are heating up about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers in 2018.

Why should LeBron join Ball in Los Angeles?

Ball on ESPN:

LeBron, I like to win. I know you like to win. I think our games can help each other out a lot. Any time you want the ball, just let me know. It’s going to be there.

Ball was asked to to pitch LeBron, so it’s not as if Ball is out here talking so brashly on his own. But answering the question was a rookie mistake.

Besides, I’m not sure Lonzo Ball can undo the bad blood between LeBron and LaVar Ball.