Associated Press

Three things we learned Thursday: Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas put on shows

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Maybe you were too busy to watch the NBA action on Thursday night because you were getting your hair cut by lighting it on fire. That happens. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook with triple-double leads Thunder past Cavaliers. Now bring on Kevin Durant, Warriors.
There were two key factors in this Oklahoma City upset of a Cavaliers team that had been playing well. The first is that this was the second night of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Cavaliers, and it showed. In the first quarter you could see the sloppy play — particularly on the defensive end — from Cleveland, something that would return many times over in the fourth quarter. On offense, they didn’t have the legs we had seen even the night before in Indiana. The Cavaliers can call this a “schedule makers loss” and move on.

The other was Russell Westbrook.

Early in the game he drove to set up teammates — Westbrook had five first quarter assists — while Victor Oladipo had seven points in the frame and Steven Adams six. Also, just like in the first meeting Westbrook the trouble he had scoring inside against Cleveland and Tristan Thompson (3-of-9 shooting inside 8 feet in this game) so he found spots on the floor where he could get knock down looks — left elbow extended, free throw line, straight on threes. The end result was 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. That’s his 26th triple-double of the season, for those of you scoring at home.

Other Thunder players were making contributions as well. Victor Oladipo finished with 23 points, Steven Adams 20, Cameron Payne is back and had a nice 15 off the bench, and Andre Roberson did this to LeBron James.

For the Thunder, next up is Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Saturday night (OKC also catches Golden State on the second night of a back-to-back and third game in four nights).

One bright spot for the Cavaliers, Derrick Williams had 12 points in his debut for the team on a 10-day contract. The guy picked No. 2 right behind Kyrie Irving in the 2011 draft brings some skills to the table, he can drive and score in the paint, and he can knock down corner threes. However, he’s been inconsistent on offense and terrible on defense. There’s a reason the Heat waived him to make room for a D-League call-up. But he gets another chance on a Cavaliers team looking for playmakers, we’ll see if this is finally a fit for him.

2) Another dominant fourth quarter from Isaiah Thomas, another win for Boston. He is the best fourth quarter scorer in the NBA right now, and he did it again Thursday night. Isaiah Thomas was getting to the rim on his way to scoring 15 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, leading Boston to a road win in a game where Portland led by 17 at one point in the first half. There may be no more dynamic player to watch in the league right now than Thomas.

Also making plays late was Marcus Smart — he had a key steal, poking the ball away from Al-Farouq Aminu, then he had an impressive put-back off an Al Horford miss when Boston needed it late.

Portland is eight games below .500 and is a game out of the playoffs in the West. How is a team with this much talent on the roster out of the playoffs?

3) Is he the clutch Sixer? T.J. McConnell with another game winner for Philly. The best news for Philadelphia fans out of the come-from-behind win in Orlando was that Dario Saric had 24 points — he is looking like a player, a guy who can be the stretch four next to Joel Embiid who makes the whole thing come together for this team.

But when the game was on the line, it was once again T.J. McConnell with the game winner, a little floater in the lane. He’s becoming Mr. Clutch for this team.

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.