Associated Press

Russell Westbrook rallies Thunder past Nuggets, 122-112

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from an 11-point, second-half deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets 122-112 on Sunday night.

Kevin Durant recorded his eighth double-double of the season with 26 points and 10 assists for the Thunder, who have won 10 of their last 12 games but were coming off a Christmas Day loss at home to the Chicago Bulls.

Oklahoma City shot a season-best 57.8 percent from the field. The Thunder trailed as late as the 8:13 mark of the fourth quarter before taking control with an 11-2 run that included seven of Enes Kanter‘s 21 points.

Dion Waters then capped a 6-0 spurt with a steal and dunk that put the Thunder ahead 117-108 with 2:07 left.

Kenneth Faried had 25 points and 11 points for the Nuggets, who have lost five of their last six games. Denver has lost six straight trips to Oklahoma City.

The Thunder started slowly for the second straight game, falling behind 8-2. Oklahoma City eventually pulled ahead, but by no more than two points in the first half. Denver closed the half on a 13-7 run and led 61-51 before a layup by Westbrook at the buzzer.

Kostas Papanikolaou‘s 3-pointer to start the second half extended Denver’s lead to 11 points, but Westbrook and Durant fueled a 20-9 run that pulled Oklahoma City even at 73-all with 5:07 left in the third quarter.

Durant fed rookie Cameron Payne for a corner 3-pointer in the final minute of the quarter and the Thunder led 91-90 heading into the fourth.

Randy Foye gave the Nuggets their last lead at 97-96 with 8:13 left. Kanter answered by tipping in a missed jumper by Serge Ibaka, then dunked after taking a feed from Westbrook and made the ensuing free throw, giving Oklahoma City its biggest lead to that point at 101-97. Consecutive dunks by Westbrook and Ibaka, who had 19 points, made it 107-99 with 5:09 left.

Will Barton scored 19 points and Joffrey Lauvergne added 18 for Denver.

TIP-INS:

Nuggets: Coach Michael Malone said Danilo Gallinari and Emmanuel Mudiay, both out with ankle sprains, probably won’t return to action until at least Jan. 2 . After the Nuggets’ loss in San Antonio on Saturday, Malone met former Denver coach Doug Moe for the first time and offered him an “open invitation” to visit the team in Denver. Moe coached the Nuggets from 1980-90 and took them to the Western Conference finals in 1985 . Will Barton was called for a technical foul with 1:53 left and Denver trailing by nine points . Foye and Jameer Nelson each are only four shy of reaching 1,000 3-pointers for their careers.

Thunder: The Nuggets were on the second night of a road back-to-back and so will the Thunder’s next two opponents: Milwaukee on Tuesday and Phoenix on Thursday . Official Bill Kennedy called offensive goaltending on a second-quarter alley-oop from Westbrook to Steven Adams, then appeared to acknowledge that he blew the call . As has become their habit this season for Sunday games, the Thunder wore their alternate orange jerseys.

 

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).

Warriors’ Bob Myers says he would ‘consider’ trading draft pick

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Even if the NBA decides to play a handful more regular season games upon return, the Golden State Warriors are going to finish the season with the worst record in the NBA (they have a 4.5 game “lead” for the worst record). That means they have a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick, a 40.1% chance of a top-three pick, and a 47.9% chance of having the No. 5 pick.

Those same Warriors are returning next season with a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, a team with title aspirations.

That’s led to a lot of speculation the Warriors would try to trade down, something Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob confirmed. Warriors president Bob Myers, speaking to NBC Sports’ Bay Area’s Monte Poole, said as much as any executive in his shoes would: He’d consider trading the pick.

“Yeah, we’re going to consider all that,” the Warriors president of basketball operations told NBC Sports Bay Area over the phone, before pausing for a moment. “Now, I don’t know if the headline is going to be that we’re trading our pick. So, be clear that I said ‘consider.’”

On the ProBasketballTalk podcast, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster said if he were in Myers’ shoes he would try to trade down, get a veteran, and land in picks four through six. There he can likely land a player such as Obi Toppin, Isaac Okoro, or Deni Avdija — players who should not go No. 1 but are better poised to help immediately. The problem for the Warriors, or whoever lands the top pick, is this is a weak draft at the top, depressing the value. Dauster described it this way: the top three picks in this draft would go 6-10 most years.

The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery and Draft Combine have been postponed, and the draft itself will get the same treatment soon (it has yet to be officially changed, but everyone expects it).

Until there is a lottery and the Warriors know where they land, it’s tough for Myers to do much more than plan. Just like the rest of us.