kevin durant warriors
Associated Press

Kevin Durant drops 39 on Westbrook, Thunder as Warriors win 122-96

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It started without much of anything, really. No handshake. No fistbump. No acknowledgement. Just a tip between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder to quietly start the most anticipated game of the season as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant faced off as foes for the first time.

The Warriors began slow, mismanaging their gameplan save for Durant, who had 13 points in the first quarter. Oklahoma City played as well as could be asked of them given the raucous crowd at Oracle Arena, but by early in the second quarter Golden State opened up a massive lead as Westbrook sat on the bench.

From that point on, there wasn’t much Westbrook or the Thunder could do to stop the four-time NBA scoring champion. Durant was everywhere — pouring in long-range threes, slashing to the lane, and talking smack to supporting members of the Oklahoma City roster.

At one point, Durant and Westbrook exchanged vicious blocks on each other that almost made you think the game wasn’t ridiculously out of hand. But it was, 68-43, at halftime in favor of the Warriors.

Durant had 29 points on 17 shots while Westbrook struggled on just 3-of-13 shooting after two quarters. The Thunder couldn’t seem to lend a hand to Westbrook, who remained surprisingly reserved given the circumstances. Only a few times did Westbrook force it, instead deciding to pass genially and with frequency in order to supply his teammates with opportunities.

Then came a clear shift.

After the second half started, Westbrook still raced up and down the floor to start the break, but instead of attacking he began passing by the time he got to the 3-point line. He defaulted to his teammates too early and too often. Maybe because he believed in them, or maybe because he wanted them to take some of the blame. It seemed as though he had purposely faded into the background.

Meanwhile, it seemed Durant was determined, with the help of this game, to steer the national conversation away from what it has been this year. Up nearly 30 points, Durant stayed on the floor for the Warriors until the 6:41 mark in the fourth quarter, playing with Steve Kerr’s bench unit. He needed it to be definitive.

Durant — long the quiet, humble star next to Westbrook’s raging, spinning asteroid — had the narrative flipped on his head. Somehow, Durant’s move to Oakland made Westbrook the sympathetic figure. The lanky 7-footer didn’t seem to like that very much, so he went out focused on to burying the Thunder. He succeeded, but I don’t think Durant changed the narrative.

Golden State would go on to beat Oklahoma City, 122-96. Durant had 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting, adding seven rebounds, one assist and one block. Westbrook wasn’t even the highest scorer for the Thunder, an honor that went to Victor Oladipo. The Thunder point guard went 4-of-15 from the field to match 10 assists, six turnovers, two blocks and one steal.

After an embarrassing stumble against the San Antonio Spurs to start the season, the Warriors have counterbalanced and appear to be, as it were, who we thought they were.

They clobbered Portland on Tuesday during a game in which Damian Lillard was in mid-season form. They slammed the Thunder, a projected playoff team by many, on Thursday. They are a Superteam™. I’m not sure that absolves Durant in the public eye.

If anything, destroying the newly branded anti-anti-hero in Westbrook with such force confirms the rest of the NBA’s fears about Golden State. That is, they are a team so powerful when fully integrated that not even Adam Silver thinks they should exist. That basketball, for us mere mortals, may be a futile exercise. That when the gods have decided they are bored in five or six years time, that we may have it back.

Until then, this looks like the Warriors’ league. We thought it would be this way. We even thought it might come this soon. But there were doubts. Doubts that they would have chemistry issues a la The Big 3 in Miami. That we could call upon lone heroes — the Lillards, Westbrooks, and James Hardens of this earth — to make them bleed.

In Westbrook, Durant helped slay at least one gladiator. When he left the court, it was the same as how it started: No handshake. No fistbump. No acknowledgement.

Just a win, and a dangerously waning hope for the rest of the NBA.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.