Is Westbrook’s perceived ‘selfishness’ a result of Brooks?

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Russell Westbrook has caught a lot of heat over the past couple weeks for his perceived “selfish” play, with many Twitter commenters suggesting the best defense against Kevin Durant is the fact he plays with Westbrook.  And while Tuesday’s 3-for-15 shooting performance isn’t going to help Westbrook’s cause, Durant’s struggles against Memphis, or the fact he took fewer shots than Westbrook did, were necessarily the result of Westbrook being a selfish, uncontrollable gunner.  

Scott Brooks was an NBA point guard and said recently that when a team struggles, the point guard and coach will inevitably take the blame.  And while the Thunder escaped an incredibly tough series against the Grizzlies, the point guard and coach for the Thunder have indeed been under a microscope.  I am a known Westbrook apologist and predicted a Thunder vs. Heat Finals at the start of the playoffs, but even so, was irritated watching him dribble around for 20 seconds and then forcing a shot up as his four teammates stood in their designated corners and watched him work.  But was that style of play really on Westbrook, or was Brooks to blame?

After watching Durant fight like hell on defense, and then stand in a corner, literally not moving, on offensive posession after posession against Memphis, it appears that he and Westbrook were just carrying out Brooks’ orders, or ‘master plan,’ if you will.  Brooks assumed that Durant wasn’t going to be able to create or be effective on offense with Tony Allen and Shane Battier draped over him, and thought that moving him out to the boonies would clear space for Westbrook to drive and create his own shots.  So while Westbrook was looking like the most selfish gunner of all time, I feel fairly confident that he was just carrying out orders from his coach.  In other words, Brooks thought his best chance to win was to with the ball in Westbrook’s hands at all times.

And now that Durant is free from the restraints of Allen and the Memphis D, maybe things will return to normal for the Thunder. Which means Westbrook will take his standard 17 shots per game, Durant will get his 20 shots, and the Thunder will give the Mavericks all they can handle.  Dirk Nowitzki gave the Thunder all they could handle in Game 1, putting on one of the great all-time individual playoff performances we’ve ever seen, yet the Thunder were still hanging around at the end – despite all of Westbrook’s misfiring.  And you have to give Brooks some credit for throwing his whole team, as well as the kitchen sink, at Dirk last night.  Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and James Harden all tried (and failed) to stop Dirk, while I think I might have even seen Shawn Kemp and Jack Sikma out there at one point trying to slow him down. 

I didn’t necessarily appreciate the coaching job Brooks did against the Grizzlies, and am not sure anyone did, but I think I at least understand it (although Harden should have started over Sefolosha that entire series, which is probably a topic for another time).  Now he’s got a whole new set of problems on his hands, starting with stopping Dirk.  The Twitter world might say that it’s too bad Westbrook doesn’t play alongside Dirk, or maybe all of Brooks’ problems would be solved.  But one thing is clear after Game 1.  Rick Carlisle is going to make sure that his best player is option No. 1 (and 2), regardless of who is trying to guard him.  And we can only hope that Brooks makes sure that Durant, and not Westbrook, is his No. 1 option going forward.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.