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Three Things We Learned Tuesday: With 41st triple-double, Westbrook ties record thought untouchable

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Maybe you didn’t watch any NBA games Tuesday because you were trying to come up with something creative to serve your family for brunch on Easter and thought “I know, I’ll put Peeps on a pizza” then had to defend that stupid idea. We can’t help you with food suggestions if you thought that sounded like a good idea, but we can catch you up on NBA news.

1) Russell Westbrook secures 41st triple-double, tying Oscar Robertson’s formerly untouchable record.
Some day, a player is going to get a hit in 56 straight games and break Joe DiMagio’s record. Someday, a running back is going to have more than 14 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, breaking Barry Sanders’ record. All sports records will some day be challenged.

Did we ever think we’d see someone get 41 triple-doubles and average one for an entire season? We’ve used every word in the Thesaurus to praise Russell Westbrook’s accomplishment this season, but on Tuesday night against the Bucks he did it again — 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists — giving him 41 on the season to tie Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for most in a season.

Westbrook needs just 16 assists in the Thunder’s remaining five games to average a triple-double for the season.

If you define the word “valuable” in MVP to mean “value to his team” then Westbrook has to be the frontrunner — the Thunder are 32-9 when he gets a triple-double, 12-24 when he doesn’t. As our own Dan Feldman pointed out Tuesday, when Westbrook is off the court the Thunder play at the level of an 18-win team. He carries them. He can chase stats at times, but if he doesn’t play like this the Thunder have no chance. Tuesday night against the Bucks was one of the more complete games the Thunder have played all season, and seems to have solidified them as the six seed in the West (which would mean a first-round matchup with fellow MVP candidate James Harden and his Rockets).

2) Pacers’ win, Trail Blazers’ loss tightens race for eighth seed in both conferences.
In the final week of the regular season, the last team (or teams, in the East) to make the NBA playoffs are completely up in the air, and Tuesday night’s results just made things crazier.

In the West it’s a two-team race for the eighth seed — the Nuggets and the Trail Blazers — and Portland seemed to be in control. Then came Tuesday: Denver beat New Orleans in a shootout 134-132, while Portland was outclassed by Utah and lost 106-87. That leaves the Nuggets just half-a-game back of the Blazers for the eighth seed, and the teams are tied in the loss column. Denver can move into a tie if they can beat Houston on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. Portland is still in control here: All four of their remaining games are at home and only two are against playoff teams. Of Denver’s remaining five games, three are on the road and three are against playoff teams. Plus Portland has the tie breaker, so the Nuggets need to finish a game ahead. Not impossible, but there’s a reason fivethirtyeight.com says Portland has an 89 percent chance of getting that playoff spot.

In the East, the Pacers upset the Raptors 108-90 (more on the end of that game below) while the Bulls played horribly against the Knicks and lost 100-91. Here’s where things stand:

6. Atlanta 39-38 (11 back of Boston/Cleveland)
7/8. Chicago 38-40 (12.5)
7/8. Indiana 38-40 (12.5)
9. Miami 37-40 (13)
10. Charlotte 36-42 (14.5)

With their loss to the Wizards Tuesday, Charlotte is all but out if it. For that matter, Atlanta should be in unless they lose every game the rest of the way. As for the three-for-two race between Chicago, Indiana, and Miami, the Bulls have by far the easiest schedule and should get in… if they stop losing to teams like the Knicks. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Pacers at 89 percent to make the postseason because of their schedule, while Miami has the toughest road (three of five games on the road, four against playoff teams, with one back-to-back). That said, anyone counting Miami out hasn’t paid attention to the team this season.

3) Lance Stephenson‘s layup starts shoving match at end of Pacers/Raptors game.
Lance Stephenson is back and getting under opponent’s skin already. This game was over when Stephenson decided to get a couple of points with a late layup rather than dribble out the clock — breaking an unwritten rule and angering P.J. Tucker and some other Raptors.

Stephenson said he got “caught up in the moment.”

For me, this is up there with pitchers/catchers getting annoyed when a player walks too long admiring his home run rather than running the bases — it’s meaningless, and if you’ve got an issue with him then stop him from doing it in the first place. Stephenson is what he is, the Raptors had plenty of bigger issues to be frustrated about in that game. Move along.

That said, expect fines from the league on this one.

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.