Russell Westbrook scores 37, leads Thunder to easy win over Lakers

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The last time the Thunder played the Lakers, they turned the ball over just nine times, and Russell Westbrook struggled offensively, finishing with just 17 points on 6-22 shooting.

Oklahoma City dropped that one on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles, so Tuesday night at home, the team corrected itself in those two areas — in a big way — in order to come away with an easy 122-105 victory over a Lakers team that, in its current condition, really doesn’t have many answers for what the Thunder are able to do offensively.

Westbrook was magnificent, pouring in 37 points on 15-29 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. Kevin Durant wasn’t dominant, but still managed 26 points on 9-22 shooting, with nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocked shots.

As a team, the Thunder shot better than 47 percent from the field, but it was really just a 3-12 night from Kevin Martin off the bench, and an 0-5 night from Kendrick Perkins (who isn’t counted on to score) that dragged the team’s shooting number down. The key numbers were points in the paint (where the Thunder bested the Lakers by 30), fast break points (where the Thunder had 16 more), and turnovers, where the Thunder were historically excellent.

Oklahoma City turned the ball over just twice against the Lakers in this one, tying the record for the lowest in the league over the last 27 years. According to the rock solid Basketball-Reference.com, only the Bucks in 2006 and the Cavaliers in 2009 matched the two-turnover feat that the Thunder were able to replicate on Tuesday.

The thing about the Thunder and their low number of turnovers, however — at least when playing the Lakers — is that it seems to be relatively consistent. Nine turnovers in the January loss is still a very low number, so maybe, just maybe, OKC isn’t the best matchup for the Lakers defensively.

OK, that’s obviously an understatement.

The athleticism showcased by Durant and Westbrook is essentially the antithesis of this Lakers team as currently constructed. As a result, there is no scheme that L.A. can put together with its current personnel that will stop what the Thunder are trying to do offensively. OKC had put up a ridiculous 71 points by halftime, and the Lakers struggled to climb back into it the rest of the way.

The Lakers were able to rally a bit in the fourth quarter, and cut a 13-point lead down to six with 5:36 remaining, and had multiple shots to get even closer. Metta World Peace missed a three and a layup on a fast break attempt, and in between Kobe Bryant missed a 15-foot jumper and Steve Nash missed a three of his own.

Any of those shots would have brought the Lakers to within a legitimate striking distance, but all of the misses eventually gave way to a three-pointer from Serge Ibaka that ignited an 11-0 Thunder run that closed the game out, and L.A. didn’t score the rest of the way.

Bryant finished with 30 points, but left the game in the first quarter due to an “ulnar nerve contusion” to his right arm. That’s essentially a funny bone injury, and while he was able to play through it, Bryant was shooting left-handed whenever he could, which isn’t exactly a sign of confidence that everything is fine.

World Peace rolled an ankle and had an X-ray on it after the game, but seemed to be confident that he’d play in New Orleans on Wednesday. Dwight Howard grabbed 16 rebounds, but finished with just six points on 1-7 shooting. He didn’t get a shot attempt in 15 second half minutes, and fouled out with 2:24 remaining.

The loss ultimately doesn’t do anything to the Lakers’ playoff hopes; as long as L.A. continues to beat the teams it’s supposed to, the chances are good it can sneak into the postseason. What this game does remind us is how far the Lakers are from their ultimate goal of winning a championship, and how far-fetched it is for anyone to believe that should the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs, that they’d somehow actually have a fighting chance.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.