Russell Westbrook says Thunder don’t need to fill James Harden’s slot

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At the time the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, the thinking in OKC was that if they were never going to come to terms on a contract extension, then the team might as well get something in return for its most dynamic scorer off the bench.

History, however, will not be kind to that deal from the Thunder’s side.

Kevin Martin was the player who was supposed to immediately fill the void left by Harden’s exit, but he was hit and miss at best over the course of the season, and was never capable of taking over a game for stretches the way Harden could at times.

Martin is gone now, signed by the Timberwolves in free agency. All that’s left in terms of assets (besides a trade exception) is Jeremy Lamb, who has potential but will need to make a considerable leap this season to help the team in a meaningful capacity.

Whether or not the Thunder can contend for a title hinges on whether you believe that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are strong enough to carry the rest of the team to the Finals. Most observers believe that Harden’s production needs to be replaced for that to happen, but Westbrook himself doesn’t see it that way.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Which is why so many of us pests on the outside are openly wondering if the Thunder, with suddenly little to show in return for Harden unless they use the trade exception they created via Martin’s sign-and-trade to Minnesota, have enough to regain the 60-win form we witnessed before Westbrook went down.

It’s no lock even if you presume, as we do here, that Westbrook will make a fairly full recovery from the knee tear he suffered when Houston’s Patrick Beverley lunged at him in Game 2 of OKC’s first-round series with Harden’s Rockets.

Said Westbrook: “The main problem is, I personally think, since James has left I think everybody thinks we need somebody to fill that slot. The slot doesn’t have to be filled. We have a great team. If everybody does their job, we should be all right.”

Thunder GM Sam Presti is obviously in agreement with Westbrook, considering he’s expecting the team to improve upon last season’s 60-win campaign.

But simply put, we wonder if Oklahoma City will have enough overall firepower to make that a reality. Someone on that roster is going to need to provide a scoring punch in a reserve role, or multiple players will need to consistently contribute in order to make things tough on opposing defenses — especially during the postseason.

It’s tough to buy what Westbrook is selling. But who knows, if he’s healthy and motivated and Durant has an MVP-caliber season in store, that could be enough to ultimately prove the doubters wrong.

Mike D’Antoni on Chris Paul suspension: ‘What is he supposed to do?’ (VIDEO)

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The NBA suspended Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul along with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram on Sunday.

It was the opinion of the league office that all three players should be suspended for their role in a fight that took place on Saturday night between the Rockets and the Lakers at Staples Center.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni took exception to Paul’s suspension, saying that he thought it was “not equitable” that Paul had to face suspension.

The NBA determined that Rondo indeed did spit in Paul’s face, or at least in the direction of him, directly preceding Paul’s eye poke on Rondo. That kicked things off into full force, and it devolved from there.

Via Twitter:

All the suspensions were fairly weak. Ingram got just four games for his initial instigation and giant, loping punch toward Paul. Rondo received three games for spitting on Paul and landing punches. Paul received two games for punching Rondo.

It’s unlikely that anybody was going to be happy with the result of the discipline just because of the bad blood involved. However, the league made comment about the suspension afterward, with the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe taking to television later on Sunday.

VanDeWeghe’s explanations don’t satisfy me, and they certainly wouldn’t if I were a Rockets fan. Guys going chest-to-chest and having tensions rise as one thing. Spitting at somebody is another. It’s a level of actionable disrespect that directly influenced and raised tensions during the incident.

Ingram looked childish for shoving James Harden, but his punch came after Rondo got Paul wound up by spitting on him. It’s hard for me to understand how Rondo didn’t get a matching sentence with Ingram at the very least.

For reference, Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 after he clocked a player on the New York Knicks during a fight as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Given that precedence, something approaching double digits for both Ingram and Rondo seems like it would have been more appropriate.

Juancho Hernangómez bats game-clinching block to beat Warriors (VIDEO)

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We all knew the Denver Nuggets were going to be exciting this season, but nobody expected them to come through with this kind of statement result this early.

On Sunday as the Nuggets took on the Golden State Warriors, a tight game in Colorado lead to a drive by Stephen Curry in the closing seconds that could have won the defending champions the game.

Instead, Juancho Hernangómez became a Denver legend.

Via Twitter:

It was a serious block by Hernangómez on Damian Jones.

Denver beat the Warriors, 100-98, moving the Nuggets to 3-0 on the year and giving Golden State its first loss of the season.

Kyle Lowry on DeMar DeRozan handshake routine: ‘He’s my best friend’ (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry was not happy with the Toronto Raptors when the team traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs this offseason for Kawhi Leonard.

Lowry and DeRozan are best friends, and their budding romance has been a sentimental point for fans in Toronto and abroad.

But life goes on, and the Raptors again are one of the teams expected to challenge for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That hasn’t kept Lowry from doing the same handshake routine he used to do with DeRozan before games this season.

The only difference? DeRozan isn’t there to help dap up Lowry.

Via Twitter:

For his part, Lowry told NBA TV after Toronto’s game on Saturday that he will continue to do the handshake routine because the DeRozan will always be his best friend.

Even thousands of miles apart you can’t keep these guys from showing love for each other.

NBA confirms Rajon Rondo spit at Chris Paul, hands out suspensions after fight

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With the NBA dissecting video from Saturday night’s game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers like the Zapruder film, it was only a matter of time before we saw suspensions handed down for Chris Paul, Brandon Ingram, and Rajon Rondo.

On Sunday, the league announced its decision.

After reviewing tape, the NBA determined that Rondo did indeed spit on Paul. Ingram was seen as the initial instigator, and thus was served with a heavier sentence.

The finally tally was:

  • Four games for Ingram
  • Three games for Rondo
  • Two games for Paul

Here’s the relevant details per the NBA’s release.

Via NBA:

Ingram has been suspended for aggressively returning to and escalating the altercation and throwing a punch in the direction of Paul, confronting a game official in a hostile manner, and instigating the overall incident by shoving Rockets guard James Harden. Rondo has been suspended for instigating a physical altercation with, and spitting and throwing multiple punches at, Paul. Paul has been suspended for poking at and making contact with the face of Rondo, and throwing multiple punches at him.

We have been waiting on these suspensions largely to see how the NBA would discipline one of the first actual fights in some time. A maximum of four games seems a little light to me. Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 when he clocked Mardy Collins during a fight between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.

Rondo only getting three games despite having spit on an opponent is also pretty wild. That’s crazy disrespectful and I would not believe you if you tried to tell me that this bad blood will end here.

Both the Lakers and Rockets will miss some of their most important players as they start duking it out in the tough Western Conference.