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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Russell Westbrook’s 31st triple-double ties Wilt, beats Spurs

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It’s only March, but I think we have the winner for “Best Headline of 2017” already: “Lawyer’s Pants Catch On Fire During Arson Trial.” Beyond that, here are the takeaways from a Thursday around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook‘s 31st triple-double ties Wilt Chamberlain, lifts Thunder past Spurs.
Anytime you’re mentioned as doing something as well and as often as Wilt Chamberlain, you’re in impressive company. (And I know where your mind just went, but I’m going to be classier than that. Just this once.)

Russell Westbrook had been putting up big numbers lately, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops or wins and had dropped four in a row, all to teams under .500. Thursday night Billy Donovan finally decided to put Taj Gibson in the starting lineup (over rookie Domas Sabonis), and that helped. So did the fact Steven Adams had his best game in a while, getting touches early, going right at the Spurs’ Dewayne Dedmon, and being engaged on both ends. Victor Oladipo would score 20, and Enes Kanter added 14. More importantly, this was the best defensive game from the Thunder in a while. It all helped, but as always this is Westbrook’s team and for them to win he had to put up numbers — he tied Wilt for second most triple-doubles in a season with 31, putting up 23 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists.

For the Spurs, this may have been a little reminder that they want to actually chase the Warriors and the No. 1 seed in the West (they are two games back and the teams play head-to-head Saturday in San Antonio). Granted, Thursday was not the full Spurs experience — no Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker, plus Kawhi Leonard went to the locker room in the third quarter after a blow to the face and did not return — but the road for the No. 2 seed in the West is going to be much tougher than the top seed.

 

Think about it. Win the top seed and a team faces either Denver or Portland in the first round, two terrible defenses, then in the second round gets the beatable Clippers or Jazz. Come in second and the first round is either Westbrook and the Thunder or the very physical and talented Memphis Grizzlies, followed by James Harden and the Rockets in the second round. Yes, the Spurs would beat the Thunder and very possibly the Rockets in a seven-game series (although it would be interesting with Houston), but the road to the conference finals is exponentially harder for the two seed.

2) LeBron James got zero help Thursday night, and the Cavaliers have dropped three straight. The individual +/- stat for a game is rarely useful. There’s a lot of noise in that statistic, a lot of factors beyond how the player performed that make up that number.

However, every once in a while it tells the story. The Cavaliers were + 18 in the 39 minutes LeBron James played against the Pistons Thursday, they were -23 in the nine minutes he rested. This is a little trend.

J.R. Smith returned to the Cavaliers lineup, which will be a boost but on Thursday he was trying to shoot his way out of feeling rusty. Kyrie Irving had 27 points, Channing Frye 15 on seven shots, but the fact is the Cavs shot 26.7 points when LeBron sat. He’s not a Terminator, he’s a human and LeBron still needs rest, but when he played he did put up a triple-double of 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Credit Detroit for a good game and a big win. This was the best Reggie Jackson has looked maybe all season, scoring 21 and dishing out five assists, leading six Pistons players in double figures in scoring. Andre Drummond had 20 points and 16 boards. This looked like the Pistons team we expected this season, and the win moved them into the seven seed half-a-game ahead of the slumping Bulls and a full game up on the Heat and Bucks, who are knocking on the door. Detroit needs more games like this down the stretch to ensure a playoff visit.

3) Jusuf Nurkic has been a revelation in Portland, lifts Trail Blazers past Sixers. In Denver, Jusuf Nurkic was the odd man out — Nikola Jokic was the big man of the future (as he should be), Jokic and Nurkic couldn’t play well together, and that left Nurkic the odd man out. Denver wanted to get rid of Nurkic so badly they sent him and a valued 2017 first round pick to Portland (for Mason Plumlee and a second rounder).

Since his arrival in Portland, Nurkic has done things he didn’t show in Denver (or refused to do) and has been the big man has sparked a four-game winning streak (Nurkic said  “I played minutes for first time in my life”). Thursday night he had 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, six blocks, two steals and the game-sealing defensive play in overtime to help the Blazers beat the Sixers in overtime. Portland is now just half a game back of Nurkic’s former team in Denver for the eighth seed in the West.

Nurkic has averaged 16.5 pts, 9.6 rebs, and 4.5 assists per game since coming to Portland, giving the Blazers far more than Plumlee did — and more than they expected in the deal. Plus the Blazers got a first rounder out of this.

If Portland makes the playoffs, Nurkic will be a key reason.

This GIF showing the evolution of Chris Andersen’s look is awesome

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Chris Andersen has had an interesting NBA career.

The Birdman has been in the league 14 years playing for seven different teams, battled addictions and spurious charges, been a guy who loves hunting/fishing/shooting/outdoor life playing an urban game, and through it all he’s picked up an NBA ring (Miami 2013) and made nearly $37 million.

The evolution of his look has been even more amazing, as this GIF shows.

(Image viaSportsBettingExperts.com, with a hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie)

Nets hosts “Biggie Night” Sunday to honor Brooklyn’s famous rapper

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Today (Thursday) the 20th anniversary of the death of Brooklyn legend The Notorious B.I.G. (We’ll now pause for a minute while you say “no say that was 20 years ago, I’m getting old.” Done? Cool. We all feel the same way.)

Sunday night, with the New York Knicks in town, the Nets are going to honor the rapper with “Biggie Night.” Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN has the details.

Barclays Center plans to honor Christopher Wallace, Brooklyn’s most iconic rapper who was shot and killed on March 9, 1997, with Sean “Diddy” Combs and Wallace’s mother, Voletta Wallace, in attendance and paying tribute to Biggie with planned pregame and halftime ceremonies. Wallace’s children — T’Yanna and CJ Wallace, Mark Pitts and Wayne Barrow — also have been invited to attend.

Notorious B.I.G.’s music has been a fixture at Nets games since the franchise moved to Brooklyn in 2012. The rapper’s songs are played before games and at halftime, and many of the rapper’s beats are played as in-game music.

Good idea. Could have had a West Coast team to go against just to have a little feud, for old times sake, but still this beats the heck out of most in-game entertainment around the league.

J.R. Smith to return to action for Cavaliers on Thursday night

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are about to get one of their two injured starters back.

J.R. Smith, who has been out since Dec. 21 following surgery to repair a broken thumb, will return to the lineup on Thursday night against Detroit, coach Tyronn Lue announced pregame.

But Smith had already said he was back.

This is a big boost for the Cavs. Smith will come off the bench until he gets his conditioning back, but he was scoring 8.6 points per game and was part of a starting five that Lue leaned on heavily, and that outscored opponents by 11.6 points per 48 minutes.

While Smith was out, the Cavaliers added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. Still, Smith brings another weapon, another gunner to a team that already is the clear favorite in the East.

Kevin Love remains out and may be until around the start of the playoffs.

Nick Young’s home burglarized All-Star weekend, thieves got $500,000 in goods, took entire safe

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Nick Young was a great addition by the NBA to All-Star weekend, where the Lakers’ gunner was part of the Saturday night Three Point Contest. He didn’t win, but still, he got to go to New Orleans and have a little fun, and eat a little gumbo.

But that may not be how he remembers the weekend now.

His Los Angeles home was burglarized while he was away, according to a report on TMZ.

…this time, crooks struck the L.A. home of Lakers star Nick Young (again!) and made off with $500k in cash and jewelry after taking his entire safe!!!

Law enforcement sources confirm … Young’s Valley residence was hit in February when the bad guys entered through an unlocked door and pilfered the NBA star’s valuables. We’re told crooks took roughly $30k in cash plus 3 gold chains, a custom ring and a locked safe containing other valuables.

The details of this have since been confirmed by the Los Angeles Times. The home is in the San Fernando Valley and is the one he purchased with pop star Iggy Azaela when they were together.

If you steal an entire safe, that means you have a lot of time and some means to pull it off — this was no smash and grab. These were pros (which is bad news for Young, it means they are less likely to be caught).

(Hat Tip Yahoo’s Ball don’t Lie)