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Russell Westbrook, Thunder cruise past Bulls 109-94

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CHICAGO (AP) — Even Russell Westbrook was impressed with the passing by Oklahoma City’s big men.

Westbrook flirted with another triple-double and Steven Adams led a dominant effort in the paint, helping the Thunder pull away from the Chicago Bulls for an easy 109-94 victory Monday night.

Westbrook had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, falling just short of his 18th triple-double of the season. But his all-around performance is practically a sure thing these days.

It was the inside play of Adams and Enes Kanter that really hurt Chicago, with the big men scoring with ease or passing out of double-teams to set up their teammates.

“They do a great job of playing off each other,” Westbrook said.

Adams had 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and Kanter finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The duo helped the Thunder to 56.6 percent shooting from the field, a 60-36 advantage on points in the paint and a 42-38 edge in rebounding.

“I thought tonight, on both ends of the floor, we played at a high level,” coach Billy Donovan said.

Dwyane Wade led Chicago with 22 points, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15. Cristiano Felicio finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls had won three in a row and five of seven, but they were no match for the Thunder with Jimmy Butler hampered by an illness. The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week had one point on 0-for-6 shooting and seven assists.

“I appreciate him coming out and giving it a shot. That says a lot about him, as a competitor, but he was really struggling, obviously,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Butler was sent home after he left the game in the third quarter, and Hoiberg said Butler will not play Tuesday night against Washington. Wade, who turns 35 on Jan. 17, also will rest against the Wizards.

“Jimmy can’t put up 50 every night. We have to do better. We have to support him a lot better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said.

Gibson’s three-point play off a slick pass from Wade got Chicago within 10 with 6:51 left in the third, but Westbrook helped the Thunder put it away from there.

The dynamic point guard threw an alley-oop to Adams and then found the center for a layup. Westbrook set up Andre Roberson for a 3-pointer and a cutting dunk. Kanter added a driving layup with 54 seconds left, helping Oklahoma City to an 89-67 lead after three.

GRANT VS GRANT

Brothers Jerami and Jerian Grant faced off. Jerian Grant had 11 points in 21 minutes for the Bulls. Jerami Grant played 16 minutes for the Thunder and finished with seven points.

“Whenever I get to play against him, it’s great to see him,” Jerami Grant said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting. … G Cameron Payne played almost 15 minutes in his second game of the season after being sidelined by a right foot injury. … The Thunder had lost four straight road games.

Bulls: G Rajon Rondo did not play on his bobblehead night. The veteran guard hasn’t played since Dec. 30 against Indiana, and it’s unclear when or if he will return to Hoiberg’s rotation. … Rookie G Denzel Valentine missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.

 

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.