Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: A lot of Westbrook may not be enough

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while watching the True Detective season 2 trailer over and over

1) Russell Westbrook tries to will Thunder into playoffs with 54 points, but it’s not enough. Oklahoma City may miss the playoffs, but it’s not for a lack of effort from Russell Westbrook. Sunday he dropped 54 points — on 43 shots, which is efficient compared to his recent big games — trying to will the Thunder past the Pacers. He couldn’t. Indiana won 116-104 behind 30 points from C.J. Miles. More than that, Westbrook may have cost his team a shot at the postseason when he got a techical in the fourth quarter. It was a quick whistle from Ed Malloy and should be rescinded by the league, but if it’s not Westbrook has 16 techs and would be out Monday night against Portland. The Thunder and Pelicans remain tied for the final playoff spot, but the Pelicans have the tie breaker. A New Orleans win Monday, and an OKC loss, and the Thunder can start making tee times for next weekend.

With the win, the Pacers moved into a tie with Brooklyn for the last playoff spot in the East.

2) James Harden kept the Thunder in playoff picture at all. The Thunder should send a nice gift basket to their old teammate Harden, the only reason they are still hin the playoff picture is Harden helped lead a come-from-behind win over New Orleans Sunday. Harden had 30 points, and the Thunder should thank Corey Brewer too, he had 13 in the fourth quarter for Houston.

As for the Rockets… the West is still a mess. Houston, Memphis and the LA Clippers are all 54-26, just half a game back of San Antonio at 55-26. While the Trail Blazers will finish with the four seed (they won the Northwest Division) the other four teams could finish anywhere from 2-6 still. With a couple games left. The West is a mess.

3) Cleveland helps Celtics take big step toward playoffs. If you can name the Cavaliers’ player, they probably rested on Sunday. Which is the smart move for Cleveland, it has wrapped up the two seed and wants guys fresh for the playoffs (even if the first round will be a virtual bye). No LeBron James, Kyrie Iriving, Kevin Love or much of anyone else. That was a huge break for the Celtics, who picked up an easy win 117-78 and with that moved into the seven seed, one game clear of Brooklyn and Indiana (tied for that eight slot). If the playoffs started today, Boston would face Cleveland. And get crushed.

4) Milwaukee’s you East six seed, hurt Brooklyn in the process. Brooklyn is the eight seed, tied with Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East, because the Nets lost to the Bucks. What that means for Milwaukee is they are locked in as the six seed in the East — which before the season seemed impossible. This Bucks team is taking a step forward (although I don’t love the trade for Michael Carter-Williams).

5) Kenneth Faried put on a show, dropped 30 on the Kings. The Manimal showed up to play on Sunday and had 19 points in the first quarter. He went on to score 30 in a 122-111 Denver win over George Karl’s Sacramento squad. Faried didn’t try to stretch his game; he just got to the rim. Check out this shot chart and video.

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Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.