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.

Memphis picks up first win since restart, beats Oklahoma City

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dillon Brooks scored 22 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their first win since the restart with a 121-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ja Morant had 19 points and nine assists for the Grizzlies.

Memphis shot 55% and avoided falling into a tie with Portland for eight place in the Western Conference standings. Memphis is one game ahead of Portland, two games ahead of San Antonio, 2.5 ahead of Phoenix, and three games up on New Orleans and Sacramento.

Chris Paul scored 17 points and Luguentz Dort added 16 for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points on 3 for 13 shooting.

The Thunder looked nothing like the team that rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Oklahoma City missed a chance to move into a tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the West.

Oklahoma City led by 18 in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies rallied to take the lead in the second. Memphis led by nine in the final seconds of the first half. Danilo Gallinari hit a 3 for the Thunder with 4.6 seconds left, then Paul stole the inbounds pass and hit a corner 3 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 63-60 at halftime.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 32-18 in the third quarter to go up 95-78 at the end of the period.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.