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Three things we learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook has entered the Jordan zone

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Here is what you need to know from around the NBA Sunday, in case you were busy dodging Santas on the ski slopes

1) Russell Westbrook enters Jordan territory with fifth straight triple-double — and Thunder keep winning.
“”I am truly a fan of his… when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball [to] the way I played the game of basketball.” That was Michael Jordan last month describing Russell Westbrook as he introduced Westbrook for the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Now Westbrook is entering The Jordan Zone — Sunday night he recorded his fifth straight triple-double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. The last guy to record five-straight triple-doubles? Jordan, who had seven straight back in 1989. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double for the season (31 points, 10.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists), the last guy to do that this deep into a season was Oscar Robertson (the year of the Kennedy assassination).

But here’s what’s more important — the Thunder are 5-0 during this streak. Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. The Thunder have a Top 10 defense this season, but they need Westbrook to carry the offense to get wins. So far, he’s been able to do that at an MVP pace.

2) DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis put up big numbers again, their teams fall short again. Not everybody can put up monster numbers and get their team a win. Sunday night DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points (on 9-of-30 shooting, just 4-of-13 inside 5 feet) plus 12 rebounds for the Sacramento Kings. But the Kings shot 32 percent as a team and lost to the Knicks 196-98.

Then there was Anthony Davis, who had 37 points (on 14-of-32 shooting) and 15 rebounds for New Orleans, but the rest of the team shot just 33.3 percent, and the Pelicans fell to the Thunder 101-92. Davis continues to lead the league in scoring at 31.8 points per game, and the Pelicans are playing better since the return of Jrue Holiday, but they remain four games back of a playoff spot, and that’s going to be a tough climb the rest of the season.

3) Clippers slip back to bad habits, fall to Pacers. We thought the Clippers had turned a corner. After three ugly losses on the road they showed maturity of spirit and game we hadn’t seen from them, bouncing back to knock off the Cavaliers and then Pelicans on a back-to-back. It seemed these Clippers were different.

Then there was Sunday. Los Angeles raced out to a 23-8 lead against Indiana, then proceeded to let all their bad habits take over again. The Clipper bench struggled again — when Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were on the court together Sunday the Clippers were +11, when they weren’t combined the Clippers were -20. The Clipper defense was inconsistent and allowed the Pacers to get 58 points in the paint. Los Angeles turned the ball over 20 times.

Credit the Pacers for showing some fight. Paul George struggled with his shot but found a way to make plays. Jeff Teague did a good job defensively on Chris Paul. Thaddeus Young was making veteran plays and carrying the offense. Rodney Stucky was fantastic off the bench.

Still, these are the kinds of games an “elite” Clippers team should win. Los Angeles has lost four of six. Which Clipper team will we see Wednesday against the Warriors?

Jamal Murray: Had bone bruise on foot, “didn’t have the energy I needed”

Jamal Murray
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It ultimately may not have changed anything, not the way LeBron James was playing, but the Jamal Murray in Game 5 did not look like the Jamal Murray who had helped lift the Denver Nuggets to that point. He was clearly bothered and not moving with the speed and fluidity he had throughout the playoffs.

“I have a big bruise on my foot. Just hurt me all game,” Murray said after the loss that eliminated Denver from the playoffs. “I changed shoes and that didn’t help. Yeah, I have a bone bruise. I don’t like to tell everybody what I got. I just like to play through it. Yeah, I was in pain, but it’s cool.

“I was out there. I was struggling a little bit today. Eighty-something days in the bubble and a lot of minutes, I didn’t have the energy I needed to have for my teammates today. Without me moving as hard or cutting as hard or scoring as much… I could have played a lot better this game.”

Murray finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and dished out eight assists, and part of what slowed him down was the Lakers’ assigned LeBron to guard him for stretches. That said, Murray was not moving like the guy who carved up Utah or who dropped 40 on the Clippers in Game 7. Still, he was out there still trying.

“He was our leader,” Nikola Jokic said of Murray. “His energy through the whole playoffs. He was banged up. He was injured before, even when I came here [to the bubble], he was a little bit banged up… But he’s a dog. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. He’s an amazing shooter. He played amazing.”

Like his coach and teammates, Murray was frustrated to be going home but looked back with pride at the leap the Nuggets made this postseason.

“We proved we can challenge the Clippers, who were the favorites. We proved we can challenge the Lakers,” Murray said. “And it’s only our second year in the playoffs. I wish things went differently, but I’m just proud of our guys, proud of everything we have done, everything we have accomplished. It’s not the end goal, but to make it this far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling.

“So just try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108
Game 5: Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Lakers win series 4-1)

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

LeBron James takes over, leads Lakers back to NBA Finals with win

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The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.