Kurt Helin

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Best Wednesday night showdown: Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden


James Harden is averaging 30.3 points, 12.6 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65 and a PER of 32.1.

Russell Westbrook is averaging 32 points, 9.9 assists, and 9.7 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 56 and a PER of 31.6.

The former teammates have become two of the of the biggest stories in the NBA this season as virtual solo acts — they are first and second in the league in time of possession this season, and they are second and third in the league in touches (behind Damian Lillard). Harden is the point guard of Mike D’Antoni’s whirlwind of an offense and has looked at home as a playmaker and scorer; angry Westbrook is just powering through defenses and nobody can stop him.

Wednesday night is the showdown: the 6-4 Rockets head north to take on the 6-5 Thunder.

There are going to be highlights and a lot of points.

I’d say Harden has been the slightly better player this season, but the winner of the showdown will be the one that gets the most help.

The Thunder have lost four in a row and are 20.2 points per 100 possessions better when Westbrook is on the court. The last few games the second unit for the Thunder have been destroyed when Westbrook sat, and the defense that got the team early wins has gone into hibernation. The Thunder are going to count on Andre Roberson to contain Harden — and not get in foul trouble, like he did against DeMar DeRozan recently (once Roberson had to sit DeRozan went off).

The Rockets have a pretty simple scouting report on OKC.

The Rockets are 36.7 points per 100 possessions better when Harden is on the court, and their offense becomes anemic when he has to rest. Surprisingly, they are not running as much as you expect from a Mike D’Antoni team — they are 15th in the NBA, the Thunder play faster. That may change tonight. The Rockets are going to need to find some defense from Trevor Ariza (with Clint Capella protecting the rim behind him) and get offense out of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and the rest.

Could we see two guys get triple-doubles in one game? Maybe.

But the one we see get help will get the win.

Watch David Blaine freak out Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, by coughing up frogs

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If you enjoy watching celebrities freaking out, you need to invite illusionist David Blaine to your next party. And a bunch of celebrities.

Blaine was the star of the show “Beyond Magic,” which aired ABC Monday night, where Blaine pulled out some illusions while surrounded by stars such as Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, Drake, Dave Chappelle (who killed it on Saturday Night Live last week), and others.

The one illusion that really freaked everyone out — Blaine coughing up small frogs. The video is above, and Chappelle’s face when he is handed the glass with the first little amphibian is worth the price of admission alone.

Also, that’s a waste of some really good champagne, it looks like.

(Hat tip NBA reddit)


Phil Jackson stays silent in wake of LeBron criticism, save for one odd tweet


Phil Jackson started an NBA controversy when, in a wide-ranging interview with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, he described LeBron’s agent/business partners/long-time friends as his “posse.”

LeBron rightfully saw that as coded language demeaning those closest to him as nothing more than leeches — then he fired back, saying he had lost all respect for Jackson. LeBron’s business partner Maverick Carter took a shot at Jackson on Twitter. Even the Knicks’ star Carmelo Anthony came to LeBron’s defense on this one.

Through all that, Jackson has remained silent. Well, except for retweeting this from Knicks vice president of player personnel Clarence Gaines Jr.

No doubt that’s a great organization. Let’s not pretend that’s what Jackson meant.

Jackson messed up with the comment, and he should come out and apologize. First off, spare me the “he meant posse in a good way” argument because that’s not true: Jackson said the same thing about LeBron’s inner circle in Jackson’s book “The Last Season,” and he made clear that he meant by posse the guys who bring the car around, go get the girls for the star, and clean up his messes.

That is a wild mischaracterization of Carter and LeBron’s agent Rich Paul. Those two set up a billion dollar shoe deal with Nike, they orchestrated LeBron’s return to Cleveland, they set up production company development deals that includes one with the NBC family, they have an office on the Warner Bros. lot. They are smart businessmen given an opportunity who studied, got prepared, then grabbed it.

Phil Jackson is not a classic racist, he’s spoken out against racism and taken steps for civil rights throughout his life. But he’s 71 and stuck in his ways — you can tell that by watching how he’s trying to build the Knicks. He’s from an era where agents and management companies — white guys in suits — controlled a players’ business affairs. He’s apparently not comfortable with the new reality of players taking control of their own brand and business futures. Not everybody has the friends around them who can take on those roles successfully, but LeBron does. Give him credit for giving those guys the opportunity, and credit to them for grabbing it.

Spurs to retire Tim Duncan’s jersey Dec. 18. Yes, he’s going to show up.


There was no question “if” the San Antonio Spurs would retire Tim Duncan’s No. 21 — he is the greatest player in franchise history.

But there were two other questions: When? And would Duncan himself show up?

The answers are Dec. 18 and yes.

The Spurs officially announced the jersey retirement plans on Wednesday, it will take place next month after San Antonio plays New Orleans.

Duncan is, for my money, the greatest power forward ever to play the game: five NBA titles, two-time NBA MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-NBA selection, 15 times NBA All-Defensive Team, 15 time All-Star, and the resume just goes on and on. More than that, the Spurs could not have built the most stable, copied organization in the NBA — and maybe all of professional sports — without the unassuming Duncan at its core.

But Duncan doesn’t crave the spotlight — he didn’t even attend his own retirement press conference. Will he attend the jersey retirement?

We will discuss whether he shows up for his Hall of Fame induction in five years, but he probably makes that too (in a class that will also have Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett).

Seven other Spurs have their numbers retired: Bruce Bowen (12), Sean Elliott (32), George Gervin (44), Avery Johnson (6), Johnny Moore (00), David Robinson (50) and James Silas (13).

Grizzlies Brandan Wright undergoes ankle surgery, to miss two months

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Brandan Wright missed all but 12 games last season due to knee surgery.

He has yet to set foot on the court for the Grizzlies this season due to ankle issues, including getting an injection because the posterior tibial tendon had become inflamed. That didn’t solve the problem, and on Wednesday Memphis announced that Wright had  undergone surgery on that ankle. From the press release:

Wright underwent a successful arthroscopic debridement of his left ankle Tuesday afternoon after non-surgical interventions failed to eliminate his posterior tibialis tendinopathy. The procedure was performed at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis and Wright will begin rehabilitation in Memphis immediately.

There is no timetable for his return, although this is not considered a “major” surgery and Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports says it should be eight weeks or so.

The Grizzlies could use him, they lack depth up front — Memphis is 17.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Marc Gasol is off the court, and that’s more about his backups than anything. Wright is an athletic backup center who is strong in the pick-and-roll and can provide some rim protection. Hopefully, he can be back around Christmas.