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 It was a quick whistle from Ed Malloy and should be rescinded by the league, but if it’s not Westbrook has 16 techs and would be out Monday night against Portland.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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Michael Jordan on LeBron James comparisons: ‘We play in different eras’

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LeBron James — who on Saturday night likely will move past Kobe Bryant into third on the all-time NBA scoring list — has reached the point in his legendary career that he only can be compared to other legends.

Specifically, Michael Jordan.

Jordan, now the owner and face of the Charlotte Hornets, was in Paris to watch his team lose to the Milwaukee Bucks, and tried to downplay comparisons to LeBron.

“We play in different eras. He’s an unbelievable player. He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best player in the world. I know its a natural tendency to compare eras to eras and it’s going to continue to happen. I’m a fan of his, I love watching him play. As you can see, our league is starting to expand on very talented players. I think he’s made his mark, he will continue to do so. But when you start the comparisons, I think it is what it is. It’s just a stand-up measurement. I take it with a grain of salt. He’s a heck of a basketball player without a doubt.” 

Does anyone think the ultra-competitive Jordan actually believes that? Of course not, we saw his Hall of Fame speech. But for fun, let’s take MJ’s words at face value.

Jordan is right. Both that it’s nearly impossible to compare NBA players across eras and that people will continue to do it anyway.

Jordan was a better one-on-one scorer playing in an era where the rules pushed the game toward isolation basketball and playing through contact. LeBron is a much better passer with better court vision in an era where driving-and-kicking to the corner, or making a skip-pass against an overloaded defense, is the smarter basketball play. Jordan broke open barriers as a player who is a brand off the court, but LeBron expanded that in a social-media era and added in a social conscience.

Both are legendary players, both are products of their generation, and both are Mount Rushmore players. Which player you think is the better player says more about you, your age, and your preferred style of play than it does LeBron or Jordan.

But please, commence the arguing in the comments.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.