The Thunder are tied with the Pelicans in the standings with just one game left in the regular season, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker, and would need to lose at home against the Spurs on Wednesday for OKC to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Obviously, the Thunder’s individual players will be rooting for the Spurs that night in some capacity. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a better way to pose that question to Russell Westbrook.
“Would you call yourself a Spurs fan,” began the unfortunately-phrased query.
1) Video game Klay Thompson showed up Monday and took away the two seed from Memphis. A few weeks ago, it would have seemed impossible that the Grizzlies wouldn’t finish with a top three seed. But things started happening. First the Memphis schedule down the stretch was brutal. Then came the injuries, with Mike Conley among others out. Then Monday night Klay Thompson happened — video game Klay showed up and dropped 26 points on the Grizzlies in the second quarter.
Thompson finished with 42, and the Warriors did what they do, winning handily. This was bad for Memphis. What the loss means is the Grizzlies cannot win the Southwest division, and with that will not be the two seed. San Antonio now controls that destiny (if they beat the Pelicans Wednesday the Spurs get the two seed). With this loss, combined with the Clippers and Rockets winning, Memphis fell all the way to the six seed. Which is likely where they land when the playoffs start, but it’s still wide open.
2) Thunder, Pelicans remain tied for eight seed in West, but you’d rather be OKC right now. The Oklahoma City Thunder got to have Russell Westbrook and they needed him — he scored 36 points, and the Thunder beat the banged-up Trail Blazers (who keep dropping like flies). The Thunder and Pelicans remain tied for the eight seed after New Orleans dropped struggling Minnesota (that’s 11 straight losses for the Timberwolves). The Pelicans own the tiebreaker, but you’d rather be in OKC’s shoes right now. Why? The Pelicans’ final game Wednesday is against the Spurs — and if San Antonio wins it gets the two seed. Gregg Popovich isn’t resting his big guns, and the Spurs have won 11 in a row. The Thunder’s final game is against those Timberwolves.
3) The Boston Celtics are in the playoffs. Chicago beat Brooklyn, which the Bulls needed to do to have a shot at the three seed in the East (but Toronto controls their own destiny, win Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Raptors get the three seed). What the Bulls’ win also means is Boston is in the playoffs. They will be either the seven or eight seed (likely seven to face Cleveland), but they are in. Credit Brad Stevens, who has got his young team to buy into a system where they move the ball on offense (and play better defense than they did earlier in the season). This was not the plan for the Celtics this season, but that they did it is impressive. And it will be a great experience for Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and the rest of the young Celtics to taste postseason play. For four games.
4) Pacers, not Nets, now control their own destiny for eight seed in East. This is the other thing the Bulls beating the Nets Monday means — Indiana controls its own destiny. Win out, and they get the eight seed in the East and a shot at Atlanta. Of course, that’s easier said than done with Washington and Memphis on a back-to-back, but it’s possible.
5) LeBron James drops another triple-double. Because he can. Just a reminder that LeBron James is very, very good at this basketball thing. Cleveland beat Detroit in a game without playoff implications, but LeBron was entertaining putting up a line of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. He’s playoff ready.
Kobe Bryant takes to Twitter to defend Russell Westbrook
While Russell Westbrook has been putting up ridiculous lines and racking up triple-doubles seemingly nightly, his efficiency and the volume of his shooting has come into question.
With some reason. Back on April 1 he was 10-of-32 shooting. April 3 it was 5-of-20. April 5 it was 12-of-29. You get the idea.
So when he put up 54 points Sunday in a Thunder loss, there was some talk of his 43 shot attempts. That’s a lot of attempts. He used 51.7 percent of the team’s possessions when he was on the court. He was an unrepentant gunner, but with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out what do you expect of Westbrook?
Kobe Bryant — the patron saint of putting up a lot of shots when your teammates are questionable — came to Westbrook’s defense.
Westbrook has certainly not always been efficient in putting up big numbers, but that has gotten too much blame for the losses the Thunder racked up. The bigger issue is the Thunder defense can’t stop anyone.
Offensively, things can get a bit stagnant when Westbrook takes over for OKC. But if the alternative is more Dion Waiters or D.J. Augustin, I’m okay with that.