Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Up-and-down Thunder dropped fourth straight, this time to Lakers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Thunder have dropped four in a row, latest to Lakers. So queue up the Paul George speculation. Every up and down in Oklahoma City this season gets viewed through the “what is Paul George thinking?” prism. Fair or not. His people were not subtle last summer about his desire to go to Los Angeles in 2018, but he has since made it sound like Oklahoma City has a real chance to keep him this summer (if the small market team is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of luxury tax).

With that backdrop, the Thunder dropped their fourth game in a row Sunday, this time to the scrappy Los Angeles Lakers 108-104 (and LA is still without Lonzo Ball). The game wasn’t that close, the Thunder closed on a 9-2 run to make this look more competitive late than it had been (Los Angeles was up 10 with just more than two minutes left).

The problem in this game was not Russell Westbrook (36 points, 9 assists, but 7 turnovers) or Paul George (26 points, 7 rebounds, and +3 on the night), rather it was everyone around them. Carmelo Anthony is in a slump, scoring 10 points on 13 shots Sunday, he’s now shooting 33.8 percent during the four-game losing streak. The ball movement on the team has dried up. And OKC’s top-five NBA defense is giving up 2.5 points per 100 possessions more during the streak and has been pedestrian, with coach Billy Donovan complaining about the team’s three-point defense in particular, they are not chasing guys off the line (the Lakers hit 43.3 percent from deep).

The defense struggling and the team going 1-4 since Andre Roberson went down is not a coincidence. Roberson, for all his flaws, knew how to fit on this team as a starter. He was their fifth guy on that impressive starting lineup. His replacement, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson, has potential but has looked over his head in this stretch. It makes the Thunder a team to watch at the trade deadline as they search for another piece.

OKC players are saying all the right things about them having confidence and that they will get their groove back, but their next game is Tuesday at Golden State. Don’t defend the arc well against that team and the price is severe.

It’s a marathon of a season, and what is really going to sway George’s decision is how things shake out in the playoffs. But for now, the Thunder need to get their mojo back.

2) Al Horford’s step-back jumper gave Boston at least one win on the day. Sunday was not a banner day for Boston sports fans, the Patriots defense could not stop the Eagles in Super Bowl LII and lost the game as favorites.

Al Horford gave Boston fans something to cheer earlier on Sunday. Down one with four seconds to go, Horford channeled his inner Dirk Nowitzki with an elbow fadeaway for the game-winner.

The reaction of the bench is awesome.

3) WTF was that ending between the Knicks, Hawks? This was the strangest thing we have seen in the NBA this season.

With 3:49 left in the game and the Knicks up three, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore was fouled taking a three. He missed the first free throw, and when he missed the second the Knicks grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the court, ran a play and Tim Hardaway Jr. got the and-1. However, when play stopped, Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks were screaming about the third free throw for Bazemore. The referees conferred, put time back on the clock, went to the other end and gave Bazemore his free throw (which he hit.) From referee crew chief Pat Fraher and the pool report after the game with the officials:

“What was called was a 3-shot foul and not 2.  So, played continued erroneously after two free throws, now we go down to the other end of the floor and we have a foul.  Then it was brought to our attention that we should’ve shot one extra free throw.  The rule under correctable errors is, do you want the citation?  It says if there’s a merited free throw that was not shot, that was to remain in play, which was what our situation was, than if under 24 seconds have elapsed, we go back to the point of interruption, reset the game clock, and nullify all play that happens up until that point.”

Yes, you’re reading that right. If the play had gone on more than :25 seconds, they would have given Bazemore another free throw, but then given Hardaway his free throw after the and-1 and continued play from there.

Anyway, we’re not done. Next up was Kent Bazemore draining what would be the game-winner, a wide-open three from the corner where no Knick made a rotation out to challenge him.

There was time for one-last Knicks shot to tie or win, and the play called for Kristaps Porzingis to set a screen and free up Tim Hardaway Jr., but he was busy trying to get someone’s attention.

Porzingis said after the game he was trying to get the attention of the official on the far side because he expected to be fouled, but in doing so missed the start of the play. That’s possible, you can’t really tell from the video, but it wasn’t pretty either way. And the Hawks get the win.



Big nights for Ben Simmons (32 points), Joel Embiid good sign for Sixers

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It was a dramatic win — because Philadelphia’s two best players stepped up.

Down one with eight seconds left and Chicago having the ball, Joel Embiid forced a turnover, Ben Simmons scooped up the ball and was fouled, then drained a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers got their sixth straight victory, 116-115.

It wasn’t just that play. Simmons had a career-high 32 points, along with 11 assists and eight rebounds, while Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds. Coach Brett Brown said after the game the pair carried Philly on the night — and the Sixers are going to need more of that to end their playoff drought.

Check out their highlights above.

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook was clutch; Curry was vintage Curry

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The NBA is back, and every day around the league there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook rescues Thunder with game-winner vs. Kings. It wasn’t just averaging a triple-double for a season, when it came time to vote for MVP last season one of the reasons Russell Westbrook came out on top was how clutch he had been. He hadn’t just willed his team into games they probably should have lost, he got them the wins — in the final three minutes of games within three points last season (something that happened 32 times for the Thunder), Westbrook averaged 4.4 points scored (best in the NBA of anyone who played in more than five such games) and shot 38.7 percent from three.

That Westbrook was back on Thursday. With the game tied 107-107 and one second left, the Thunder ran an out-of-bounds play where Westbrook got surprisingly open coming off a double screen and had room for a clean look catch-and-shoot three. Do we need to tell you what happened?

OKC needs the wins for playoff seeding through its final 22 games — the Thunder are now just 1.5 games out of being the three seed in the West, or 2.5 games away from falling out of the playoffs entirely. The West is that bunched up. They should make the playoffs ( gives them an 89 percent chance of being in) but where they fall will determine how tough a run through the playoffs they will face.

2) Stephen Curry was hitting Stephen Curry shots, drops 44 on Clippers. If Stephen Curry’s shot chart looks like this, it’s going to be a long night for the opposition.

Curry had 44 points on 19 shots and just could not seem to miss, even nailing a buzzer-beater from the center-court logo.

Credit the Clippers here, who put up points (22 from Tobias Harris) and made this a contest, falling 134-127. Los Angeles is fighting for a spot in the playoffs (they are currently one game back of New Orleans for the eight spot) and have found ways all season despite a rash of injuries and Blake Griffin being traded. They should be appreciated for their play this season. There’s just not much you can do when Curry and the Warriors are going off.

3) New look Cavaliers suffer first loss, fall to Wizards. The newfound energy was there in Cleveland. LeBron James was playing at an MVP level. The versatility of the new-look Cavaliers roster was on full display.

Cleveland just couldn’t shoot Thursday night. To be more specific, Cavaliers not named LeBron James (32 points on 18 shots) couldn’t buy a bucket. Cleveland was 8-of-35 from three and in the final nine minutes of the game the non-LeBrons were 0-of-10 shooting. The Wizards went small and were +17 with that lineup as the Cavs had no answers (the lineup was Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris). The Wizards got the win 110-103.

Cleveland can chalk this up to an off night, and it was. It was also a reminder of why this Cleveland team isn’t as good as a year ago — they don’t have a reliable second shot creator and scorer who can just get buckets and lift the team up. Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer, but he’s in Boston. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and the new guys are not on that level. Some nights that will be an issue.

The Wizards are now 8-2 since John Wall went down and are scoring 4.2 points per 100 possessions above their season average in that stretch. The ball is moving and the players are moving off it, Beal has been brilliant, Satoransky has stepped up, and the Wizards are securing their spot in the top half of the East. When Wall returns he has to figure out how to fit in with this offensive style, not come in and dominate it with the ball in his hands.

The Wizards need more wins like this as they enter a tough stretch of their schedule (14 of the next 16 are against teams currently in the playoffs).

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning 3-pointer to beat Kings (VIDEO)


Welp, looks like Russell Westbrook is re-energized after All-Star Weekend.

As the first night of games after the break got underway on Thursday night, it was Westbrook who gave us a jolt as he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Sacramento Kings on the road.

With just a second to go, Sacramento’s Justin Jackson had tied the game up at 107-107. This came after Vince Carter pulled up confidently from nearly 30 feet out, missing badly. Sacramento missed another follow, and then Jackson put home the final try.

Via Twitter:

That left the Thunder to advance the ball with just one second left.

Oklahoma City ran a simple play with Westbrook running near-to-far across the arc from the inbounder, eventually settling at the top of the 3-point line.

He let it fly, and that allowed OKC to come away with a win, 110-107.

Bulls find way to lose despite being up by 5 with 35 seconds left

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CHICAGO (AP) Ben Simmons scored 32 points, making two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to complete Philadelphia’s rally from five points down in the final minute, and the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 116-115 on Thursday night.

Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Simmons added 11 assists and seven rebounds as Philadelphia won its sixth straight and snapped a four-game road losing streak.

Bobby Portis had a career-high 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23 for the Bulls, who were 18 for 34 on 3-pointers.

Chicago had a 115-114 lead and the ball with 8 seconds to go before Embiid deflected an inbounds pass to create a turnover. Simmons came up with the ball near half court and was fouled by Denzel Valentine. He made both free throws.

Portis had a chance for a game winner, but his short attempt – with Embiid defending – just missed.

The 76ers raced to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter before Portis got hot and Chicago started making 3s.

Philadelphia’s lead was down to 33-29 at the end of the quarter and the Bulls busted out for 40 points in the second to take a 69-67 halftime lead. Chicago was 9 of 12 on 3-pointers in the quarter, including 4 for 5 by Portis.

The 76ers were up by five early in the fourth before Portis scored six straight points – on a 3-pointer and a three-point play – to put the Bulls on top 101-100. A few minutes later, Portis dunked over Embiid to stretch the lead to 111-106 with just over four minutes to play.

LaVine hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-110 with 1:02 left.


76ers: C Embiid has nine straight double-doubles . Simmons has six triple-doubles this season, which ties him with Wilt Chamberlain (three times) and Billy Cunningham for most in a season in team history.

Bulls: To look at some younger players during the final 25 games, C Robin Lopez and G/F Justin Holiday were removed from the starting lineup. Both were inactive on Thursday as Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba (21 points) started; Also, Cameron Payne – who played in his first game on Thursday – will replace Jerian Grant as the backup point guard.

“It really is hard,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s hard for Robin, it’s hard for Justin and it’s hard for Jerian, who’s probably making as big a sacrifice as anybody.”


76ers: Host Orlando on Saturday.

Bulls: Visit Minnesota Saturday night.