Three things we learned Monday: Westbrook now averages a triple-double for the season

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Here’s what you missed on an entertaining Monday night around the NBA, while you were busy dressing like a ninja to fight for, the homeless.

1) Russell Westbrook now averages a triple-double — for the season. It’s not even December yet and already we’re starting to run out of superlatives to pair with Russell Westbrook. On Monday night, angry Russ was just one assist away — let’s say Joffrey Lauvergne knocked down an open jumper — from having his third-straight triple-double by halftime. He easily got his eighth of the season, finishing the night with 27 points, 18 assists, and 14 rebounds leading the Thunder to a 112-103 win against the Knicks.

What is stunning is Westbrook is now the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double this far into the season — Robertson finished the 1962 season with a triple-double, and after Monday night Westbrook is officially at 30.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. Anyone who doubts if he can keep it up hasn’t watched the unleashed fury with which Westbrook is playing this season, now that Kevin Durant moved west.

Here’s what makes Westbrook’s accomplishment even more impressive: The Thunder play at a pace of 99 possessions per game, back then Robinson’s Cincinnati Royals played at 124.9. That is 26 more opportunities a night for shots, assists, and rebounds that Robinson had.

Westbrook was 9-of-23 shooting Monday night, which isn’t very efficient, but he got some help from Enes Kanter who had 27 points on 17 shots off the bench and helped lead a second unit that sparked a second quarter comeback and held the fort down in the fourth while Westbrook got some rest.

That’s three straight wins triple-doubles and three straight wins for the Thunder, who improve to 11-8. The question about Westbrook winning MVP — and we’re a long way off from that discussion on that topic — was would the Thunder have enough wins for some voters’ tastes. The question wasn’t going to be production, but how far he could lift the team (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and others didn’t win MVP in their best statistical seasons because the team wasn’t good enough). The last three games Westbrook has shown he can lift this team up, the only question is how far he can carry it.

2) Warriors have won 12 in a row, and they beat the Hawks with defense. In its 11-game win streak heading into Monday night, Golden State had won its games by an average of 19.1 points per game. They haven’t just been winning, they’ve been blowing teams out.

Which is what made Monday night interesting — Atlanta made them work for it. Atlanta got off to a fast start this season to a great part thanks to their defense and they protected the paint well all night: The Warriors were only 12-of-20 at the rim all night. It took a few things for the Warriors to get the win, such as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala sparking a 21-7 run from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth that gave the Warriors the lead for good, or the Hawks helping out by shooting just 7-of-29 from three (Kyle Korver had just one).

But the real key for Golden State was their defense once they got that lead late. Draymond Green had just four points on the night (2-of-9 shooting) but was tremendous on defense in the fourth quarter — he blocked Dennis Schroder then Kent Bazemore on drives, and he was the key reason the Hawks shot chart looked like this in the fourth, when Atlanta shot just 27 percent.

Hawks fourth quarter chart

After a tough defensive start to the season, the Warriors are now eighth in the NBA defensively and playing well on that end.

Green — with the help of his coaches and teammates — has already started to wage a campaign for Defensive Player of the Year. He has come in second in the voting twice, he wants it. Much like with Westbrook and the MVP race, it’s far too early to have a serious discussion about end-of-season awards when we’re not even to December, but this is these are the kinds of plays DPOYs make — and if you make them, you can dance.



3) DeMarcus Cousins was again a beast. Again the Kings lost anyway.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Kings went into this season with high playoff aspirations, but they keep suffering losses in games they should win — despite the play of their star.

On Monday night DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings in points (36), rebounds (20), and assists (4). He was the guy who drove in isolation and got past Marcin Gortat for the final two Kings buckets in regulation to tie the game, then contested John Wall’s potential game winner that missed as time expired. Boogie was fantastic.

But the Kings lost, 101-95 in overtime, and fall to 7-11 on the season. There were a few reasons Washington won, and it give the victors and their stars credit — Bradley Beal had a strong night with 31 points, while John Wall finished with 19 points and 11 dimes. However, the biggest difference was the benches. It was a tight game at the end of the third when Cousins and Rudy Gay went to the bench for some rest, and pretty soon Washington went on a 10-0 run. Cousins helped dig his team out of the hole, but that was all he could do. Washington leaned heavily on its starters (they played 24 minutes together and were +5), but their bench made plays.

And with another loss, the vultures — in the form of other teams’ GMs — continue to circle Sacramento, looking to pick off Gay, or Omri Casspi, and eventually Cousins himself. Go ahead and argue the Kings are just two games back of the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West right now, but unlike Los Angeles, Sacramento doesn’t look like a playoff team.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?