Kevin Durant says Russell Westbrook to return Thursday vs. Heat

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Welcome back Russell Westbrook, as a present we got you the two-time defending NBA champions to deal with. You can thank us later.

We had told you before this could be coming, but it sounds much more official when Kevin Durant says it — Russell Westbrook should return Thursday when the Thunder take on.

“Next game right after the All-Star break, against Miami,” Durant said of Westbrook’s timetable in an interview with Grantland’s Bill Simmons on Friday.

Westbrook has been out since the day after Christmas, having his third knee surgery since the end of the season last April.

In his absence this season, the Thunder have gone 22-8 in part because Durant stepped up his game to MVP levels, averaging 31.5 points and 5.5 assists a game since Westbrook went down. More than just that, the Thunder’s overall ball movement and offensive play has been more fluid, there has been less standing around watching Durant or Westbrook making a play.

That said, remember the Thunder are 21-4 with Westbrook this season. If that ball movement stays with his return, the Thunder move from clear favorite in the West to “I’m not sure anybody can beat these guys” status.

That experiment apparently begins Thursday night.

Luka Doncic fined $10k for kicking ball into stands (video)

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Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic got ejected a few days ago for kicking the ball into the crowd, his second technical foul of the game.

That outburst also got him fined.

NBA release:

Dallas Mavericks guard-forward Luka Dončić has been fined $10,000 for kicking the game ball into the spectator stands, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Dončić was assessed his second technical foul and ejected, occurred with 3:00 remaining in the third quarter of the Mavericks’ 111-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 19

Players usually get fined $25,000 for throwing something into the stands. But sometimes, they get just a $10,000 fine for that, seemingly if it appears they didn’t intend for the object to reach the crowd.

Did Doncic mean to kick the ball as far as he did?

Who knows? But it seems he got the benefit of the doubt here.

Mike D’Antoni: Not right NBA wouldn’t allow Rockets to trade Carmelo Anthony yesterday

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The Rockets signed Kenneth Faried, importantly to them, before their game against the 76ers yesterday. With Clint Capela injured, Houston needed another big against Joel Embiid.

But the Rockets had to open a roster spot for Faried. Their clear preference was trading Carmelo Anthony. Failing that, they’d release James Nunnally.

Houston agreed to deal Anthony to the Bulls but couldn’t complete the trade because the league office was closed, as is the norm on weekends and holidays (in this case, Martin Luther King Day). So, the Rockets dropped Nunnally, eating the remaining salary on his 10-day contract, increasing their luxury-tax bill and costing him the opportunity to play for a team that could use him.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I don’t think it’s right,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of having to terminate Nunnally. “There’s ways (the league) could have facilitated it.”

What happened to the Rockets was fair in that the rules were clear and applied equally to each team.

But I agree with D’Antoni. Games don’t stop for weekends and holidays. The league office shouldn’t, either.

Teams should have more ability to change their rosters on the fly, because games come so quickly. Halting business for weekends and holidays is antiquated. This is a global, multi-billion-dollar operation now.

The NBA can afford to employ enough people who review trades not to overwork any of them. It’d create a better product and make the sport operate more smoothly.

Stephen Curry slips and falls on wide-open fastbreak, gets ball back, air-balls 3-pointer (video)

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See, the Warriors are fallible.

Though Stephen Curry‘s mishaps coming during a blowout win undercuts the point.

Jaren Jackson Jr. bullies Nikola Mirotic with dunk on him (video)

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Yes, the Grizzlies lost to the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans by 20 last night. Results like that are why there’s thought Marc Gasol could leave Memphis.

But at least plays like this Jaren Jackson Jr. dunk on Nikola Mirotic provide hope for the Grizzlies’ future.

Jackson is a skilled 3-point shooter and rim-protector. Add a mean streak inside offensively, and the rookie could really take off.