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Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Durant, Westbrook don’t let Thunder blow this lead

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Just a reminder for those of us dads, we may not be perfect, but we could be worse. For the dads who missed the NBA games Wednesday night, here’s what you need to know from around the Association.

1) Thunder hang on to lead this time, beat Clippers at home behind video game Russell Westbrook. This was cathartic for Oklahoma City and its fans — it was what they should have done a week ago. OKC took a double-digit lead against the Clippers into the fourth quarter and held on for a comfortable win, 120-108. Yes, the OKC stars put up serious numbers — Kevin Durant had 32 points, and he described Russell Westbrook’s night of 25 points, 11 rebounds and 20 assists as being like NBA2K on rookie mode. That’s 11 triple doubles this season from Westbrook, and he has become a beast in the post. But what sealed the win for the Thunder was their defense — they held the Clippers to 46 second half points, after allowing 62 in the first 24 minutes. And underrated performance came from Andre Roberson, who stuck with J.J. Redick as well as anyone has this season (Redick still had 22 points, but for stretches the Clippers couldn’t go to him).

This does not wash away the last couple weeks of the Thunder’s play, but it’s a step in the right direction (and it keeps them alone as the third seed). OKC had big games against San Antonio and Portland coming up where they can prove they are again back to being a real threat in the West.

2) Memphis’ Mario Chalmers went down with an injury that looked bad. Non-contact injuries are the worst, and this one looks bad. Grizzlies’ point guard Mario Chalmers tried to plant and take a step forward and just collapsed on the floor in pain in a game against Boston. He had to be helped back to the locker room and was done for the night, officially with a foot injury (he left the arena in a wheelchair). I hope I’m wrong, but this looked like an Achilles injury. He’ll have an MRI on Thursday. Memphis is already without Mike Conley for a couple of games with a foot injury (not to mention Marc Gasol is done for the season, Zach Randolph is out, and frankly we don’t have the space here to list all the Memphis injuries).



3) Warriors get a team win, but Stephen Curry did drain another half-court buzzer beater.
Stephen Curry was human for a night, with 12 points on 12 shots. Of late that has meant trouble for the Warriors, but for the first time in a little while they responded with their most balanced team game of the season, beating Utah 115-94. It was the kind of win the Warriors need more of. That said, after the game all everyone wanted to talk about was another Stephen Curry 55-footer — Curry is now 5-of-13 this season on “heaves” from beyond 39 feet. That’s 38.4 percent. For this one he had to shake Trey Burke then just drained it like it was nothing.

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4) Kemba Walker scores 30+ for fourth consecutive game. When we talk about the top point guards in the NBA, Kemba Walker’s name needs to come up. He scored 35 points on 18 shots — draining five threes and getting deep into the paint for his other looks — to lead the Hornets to a fifth-straight win, 122-113 over the New Orleans Pelicans. When New Orleans made a run and made it a game early in the fourth, Walker responded with six straight points to spark the Charlotte run that kept them in front. Anthony Davis dropped 40 for the Pelicans and did what he could, but it was not going to be enough against Walker and a Hornets team that knocked down 15 threes on the night.

5) Chris Paul may get a fine for smacking Kevin Durant in the, er, “groin.” Chris Paul is the master of making this look incidental, but it happens too often for that to be the case. In this instance, we’ll see if the NBA hits him with a fine. But when he cuts to open space and swings his arms, CP3 has found a way to slow his defender that is effective.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.