Russell Westbrook scores 41 points, takes home MVP of 2015 All-Star game

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NEW YORK — Russell Westbrook began the 2015 All-Star game by setting a new record for the most points scored in a half, and he nearly finished it by tying the single game scoring record, before ultimately finishing one point shy.

His 41 points were enough, however, to lead the West to a 163-158 victory, which allowed Westbrook to take home the game’s MVP honors.

“Definitely a blessing, man,” Westbrook said afterward. “You never want to take no games off, especially an All‑Star game to get a chance to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game that I love and definitely happy we got the win.”

LeBron James appeared to be in the hunt for the MVP early on, scoring 15 points on just nine shots in the game’s first eight-and-a-half minutes. But with the East trailing by as many as 20 points in the first half, it would be difficult for him to win it if his team lost the game in blowout fashion.

It became a one-point game by halftime, though, and remained close the rest of the way — meaning the MVP race remained tight, as well.

That may have been the reason that Westbrook was denied the chance to gun for the scoring record of 42 points, which was set by Wilt Chamberlain back in 1962. His teammates seemed unaware that he was so close, with possessions getting drawn out until the shot clock wound down, and with little emphasis being placed on getting the ball to Westbrook in the game’s closing minutes. And more than one of them confirmed it afterwards.

“We had no idea,” James Harden said. “We were trying to go out there and win the game. It’s all about bragging rights for the West, and so we just go out there and play hard enough in the fourth quarter and come out with the victory.”

“I don’t think we talked about it with him personally,” said Stephen Curry. “Certain guys started asking questions trying to figure out what the number was, but more of the talk was we wanted to win the game really bad, and however we get it done, we wanted to do that.”

“No, we didn’t know,” said Steve Kerr, who coached the Western Conference squad.  “The plan was just to go into the fourth quarter having played everybody. We knew that Tim and Dirk were just going to play a handful of minutes. Same with Kevin, based on a nagging injury. And we just figured whoever was hot in the fourth quarter we would go to. And obviously Russell had it going, so we went back to him after a brief rest. We just knew he was hot; we didn’t know of any records.”

Westbrook, however, said he did find out about it in the game’s final minute. But he was with his teammates in keeping the focus on the win instead.

“Somebody told me, but at that time we were just trying to find a way to win the game and find a way to close the game out,” Westbrook said. “But I missed about six or seven layups. I definitely could have had it.”

What he ended up with instead was the game’s best overall performance — and one that drew the praise of the man that is recognized by most as the league’s best player.

“I think Westbrook came for it from the start,” LeBron James said. ‘He’s unbelievable. He’s an unbelievable talent in our league. His motor, his athleticism, his demeanor about how he approaches the game, it’s all great. And it’s great for our league. He showed that tonight, and showcased it on a big stage.”

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.