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.

Rumor: Lakers want to make Kurt Rambis associate head coach

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When Magic Johnson resigned as Lakers president, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had an opportunity to be bold. Instead of empowering cronies, she could find the best available executive to lead the front office.

Instead, she’s apparently again leaning on the comfort of friends.

As the Lakers’ conduct their coaching search, Kurt Rambis (Senior Basketball Advisor) and his wife Linda Rambis (Executive Director, Special Projects) are quite involved.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The goal is seemingly to move Rambis to the bench as an associate head coach. But if that doesn’t work, he could become the assistant general manager.

Kurt Rambis interviewing Monty Williams makes sense. Kurt Rambis works in basketball operations, after all. Linda Rambis’ presence makes less sense given her official role within the organization, but she is close to Jeanie Buss.

It’d be something else entirely to install Kurt Rambis as an associate head coach, though. He did poorly as Timberwolves coach and, as New York’s interim coach a couple years ago, made the Knicks into an even bigger mess than they already were.

This shines new light on Magic Johnson reportedly admonishing Luke Walton for not having an experienced coaching staff. Walton had Brian Shaw, a former Nuggets head coach (and someone with his own problems relating to players). Shaw wasn’t enough?

Maybe there was a preference from above, not for any experienced assistant coach, but Kurt Rambis specifically.

This should scare any Lakers coaching candidates. Not getting to pick your own staff is a negative. Having the owner’s hand-picked choice forced upon you is a huge red flag. That means management will be confident in an internal replacement if it’s considering firing you.

Damian Lillard says Paul George being a poor sport: ‘If anything, it was bad defense’

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Damian Lillard made the coldest shot the NBA has seen in years – a buzzer-beating, series-winning, 37-foot pull-up 3-pointer over Paul George.

George called it a “bad shot.”

Lillard on the Pull Up podcast:

It was a good shot.

I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the moments. That’s because they’re not the ones that’s there. I literally work on those shots. And I don’t work on it so I can just come out and just shoot it for the whole game. I work on it just because, over my career, I know how much attention I’m going to get from defenses. So it’s just like you’re just keeping stuff, adding more things, adding more and more, keeping stuff in your pocket, in case these types of situations do present itself. Even if it’s not something you want to lean on, it’s something that you have there, that you worked on, you spent time doing. So, you’ve got confidence in it when the time does come. That’s why, when I was just standing there, I was like, well, it’s probably not good in a lot of people’s eyes. But I’m comfortable with this, and I’m confident in this. So, to me, it’s a solid shot.

For him to say that’s a bad shot, that’s just kind of being a poor sport. If anything, it was bad defense, because I had the ball in my hands with two seconds, and I wasn’t going to drive, so maybe he should’ve just bodied up.

Whether a shot is good or bad depends on the context. With the game tied, the Trail Blazers wanted to ensure they took the last shot of regulation, make or miss. The Thunder’s defense was set. Lillard has tremendous range.

In a good shot/bad shoot binary, I’d call this a good shot. It certainly wasn’t a great shot. But in that situation, I think it passes the test (though I’m obviously biased by seeing it going in).

The fact that it was such a difficult shot doesn’t take anything away from Lillard. It only adds to the accomplishment.

I’m loving his victory lap. After Portland got swept by the Pelicans in the first round last year, he faced questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs. It’s time to put those to rest.

There’s plenty of room to debate whether that incredible basket was a good shot or a bad shot by process. But Lillard is built for these moments. There’s no doubt.

NBA, Kings investigating sexual-assault allegations against Luke Walton

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Kings coach Luke Walton is being sued for sexual assault. He is not facing a criminal investigation.

Kings release, via NBC Sports California:

The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association announced today that they have commenced a joint investigation into the allegations contained in a civil lawsuit filed Monday against Kings Head Coach Luke Walton.

The Kings have hired Sue Ann Van Dermyden, founding partner of Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, who is an expert on employment law with decades of experience in conducting investigations, and Jennifer Doughty, a veteran investigator and senior associate attorney at Van Dermyden Maddux. They will lead the Kings investigatory team.

The NBA’s investigatory team will be led by Elizabeth Maringer, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Integrity and Investigations. Prior to joining the NBA, Ms. Maringer served 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including three as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

In 2016, Derrick Rose was sued – and found not liable – for sexual battery. The NBA did not investigate that situation as the lawsuit unfolded.

Why did the league change its approach now?

Rumor: Jeanie Buss mistakenly CCed Magic Johnson on Rob Pelinka’s emails critical of Johnson

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As he stunningly resigned as Lakers president, Magic Johnson bemoaned “the backstabbing, the whispering.” It seemed he was talking about general manager Rob Pelinka. And maybe he was.

But perhaps Johnson was also referring to owner Jeanie Buss.

Ric Bucher of FS1:

My understanding is is that there were some emails that were exchanged between Rob and Jeanie … about Magic and about what Magic was and wasn’t doing. They were critical emails. And somehow, some way – Jeanie, from what I understand, was CCing or blind CCing Magic on everything. That was sort of protocol, standard issue. Somehow, the exchange between Rob and Jeanie ended up on that string of the blind CCs that were going to Magic. So, Magic now is seeing emails from Rob to Jeanie that were critical of what he was doing.

And maybe most important in all this is that there was no indication that Jeanie was backing Rob up in terms of either going to Magic and letting him know that this was going on or going back at Rob and defending Magic. That was not happening. And so when he talked about the backstabbing, to me, my understanding is that’s what started it. And the fact that Jeanie waved goodbye and said, “Thank you for all that you did,” was that she didn’t necessarily disagree with what Rob was saying.

The problem with this story: It’s believable, and a lot of people want it to be true. I want it to be true! It’s hilarious.

But that opens the door for people spreading it, even if it’s untrue. It’s a lot of fun to pile on the Lakers right now.

Back to the believability. Johnson, even while resigning, has frequently called Buss his sister. Would she really participate in email chains critical of her own brother?

Oh, right.