Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook steps into history books with 100th triple double

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook joins Hall of Fame company with 100th triple-double. Oscar Robertson. Magic Johnson. Jason Kidd.

And now Russell Westbrook.

The 100 triple-double club is small and filled with some of the best to ever play the game. Westbrook got his 100th triple-double Tuesday night vs. Atlanta, racking up 32 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds during an easy Thunder win.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s a league-leading 21 triple-doubles this season for Westbrook, coming on the heels of last season when he averaged a triple-double for the entire season (and won the MVP award).

Robertson owns the record for most triple-doubles in a career with 181. Is that a number Westbrook can hit? Can Westbrook average 20 triple-doubles for four more seasons beyond this one? It’s a big ask, but tell Westbrook he can’t do something and he’s likely to do it.

2) Injury updates: Kevin Love could be back on the court before Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard.
At this point in the season, playoff-bound teams prioritize getting healthy and entering the postseason rested over everything else — unless they need to worry about just making the playoffs. That brings us to our injury updates of three key players, and we will go in projected order of return.

Kevin Love could return to the Cleveland Cavaliers lineup next week. He has been out with a fractured hand since Jan. 30, but when I saw him the other day in Los Angeles (while the Cavaliers were in town for a couple games) he was working out and getting shots up with the cast off. He says he will be back next week — and the Cavaliers need him. They are 2-2 so far on a seven-game road trip, and their offense lacks anyone outside LeBron James who can be trusted to create shots or get consistent buckets. Love helps with those issues. Plus they need time to integrate him into the rotation — he’s been out since before the trade deadline and Tyronn Lue needs to see where Love fits with Larry Nance Jr. and the rest of the new Cavaliers.

Stephen Curry will remain out the rest of this week and be re-evaluated March 20. The Warriors are not falling below the two seed in the West, they don’t care about catching Houston for the top seed, and they have a soft schedule the rest of the way — there is no reason to rush Curry back from his third ankle injury of the season. Let Kevin Durant rack up numbers, the Warriors epitomize the kind of team focused on health and rest over everything else right now.

Kawhi Leonard will be back when his own medical team clears him to return. Nobody knows when that will be — not even Gregg Popovich. Like any smart player with a significant injury, Leonard got a second opinion from someone other than the team doctor (team doctors are generally very good at their job, but they are paid by the team and that can create a conflict of interest). It’s not the Spurs doctors, it’s Leonard’s doctors who have not cleared him fully yet. Leonard is frustrated, the Spurs are frustrated, but he will be back when he is back. Whenever that will be.

3) West playoff update after Tuesday: Denver loss to Lakers a tough setback. In a brutal Western Conference playoff race, the cardinal sin is losing to below .500 teams — which makes the Lakers the ultimate spoilers. They are a below .500 team that is playing like a playoff team, having gone 20-12 in 2018 (and 20-9 since LaVar Ball said the guys were not playing for Luke Walton).

Denver found that out the hard way in a 112-103 loss that included Isaiah Thomas making a little jab at Jamal Murry on the final play.

The loss drops the Nuggets to the 10 seed, a game back of the Spurs and Jazz who are tied for the eighth seed and final playoff spot. Both San Antonio (108-72) and Utah (110-79) had comfortable wins over non-playoff teams on Tuesday night.

In other West action, Minnesota beat Washington, Oklahoma City easily beat Atlanta (Westbrook’s triple-double game), the Clippers beat the Bulls, and the Pelicans beat the Hornets. All of that means there was little movement in the West playoff standings on Tuesday night, save for Denver taking a step back.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs

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OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images
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Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’

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DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.

 

Phoenix Suns reportedly to hire Frank Vogel as new head coach

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Frank Vogel won a title coaching two stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in Los Angeles.

Now he will get the chance to coach two more stars with title aspirations, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix. The Suns are finalizing a deal to make Vogel their new head coach, according to multiple reports. This is reportedly a five-year, $31 million deal.

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia — who took over in early February and immediately pushed for the Durant trade — reportedly has been the man at the helm of basketball operations since his arrival, making this primarily his choice. Doc Rivers and Suns assistant Kevin Young also were in the mix for the job.

Vogel may not be the sexiest hire on the board — and it’s fair to ask how much of an upgrade he is over Monty Williams — but it is a solid one. The Suns can win with.

Vogel is a defense-first coach who has had success in both Indiana — where he led the Paul George Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice — as well as with LeBron’s Lakers (Vogel struggled in Orlando, but that was more about the roster than coaching).

Vogel is a good coach for superstars because he is relatively egoless, low-key, and a strong communicator — this is not a big personality with a hard-line attitude. Instead, he works to get buy-in from his guys and gives his stars plenty of freedom on the offensive end. Durant and Booker will have their say in what the offense looks like, but Vogel will demand defensive accountability.

There is a “good chance” Kevin Young — the top assistant under Monty Williams who had the endorsement of Devin Booker for the head coaching job — will stay on as Vogel’s lead assistant, reports John Gambadoro, the well-connected host on 98.7 FM radio in Phoenix. If true, that be a coup for the Suns, who would keep a player favorite coach to be more of an offensive coordinator. It is also possible that Young and other assistant coaches (such as Jarrett Jack) will follow Williams to Detroit, where he was just hired (on a massive deal).

Nick Nurse doesn’t ‘vibrate on the frequency of the past,’ talks winning with 76ers, Harden

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In his first day on the job, Nick Nurse didn’t shy away from the hard topics and high expectations — he embraced them.

Nurse is the new 76ers head coach — and Doc Rivers is out — because the team was bounced in the second round. Again. Nurse said at his introductory press conference that he doesn’t see the way past this is to ignore the problem (from NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“We’re going to hit that head-on,” he said… “We know we’re judged on how we play in the playoffs. It was the same in Toronto. We hadn’t played that well (in the playoffs) and certain players hadn’t played that well, and all those kinds of things. So the reality is that’s the truth. I would imagine that from Day 1, we’re going to talk about that and we’re going to try to attack that. We’re going to have to face it and we’re going to have to rise to it.”

Nurse stuck with that theme through multiple questions about the past and what he will do differently. Nurse talked about the players being open-minded to trying new things, some of which may not work, but the goal is to get a lot of different things on the table.

He also talked about this 76ers team being championship-level and not getting hung up on that past.

“My first thought on that is this team could be playing tonight (in the Finals), along with some others in the Eastern Conference that wish they were getting ready to throw the ball up tonight… And as far as the rest of it, I look at it this way: I don’t really vibrate on the frequency of the past. To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit, it’s going to be only focused on what we’re trying to do going forward. … Whatever’s happened for the last however many years doesn’t matter to me.”

The other big question in the room is the future of potential free agent James Harden.

Harden has a $35.6 million player option for next season he is widely expected to opt out of, making him a free agent. While rumors of a Harden reunion in Houston run rampant across the league, the 76ers want to bring him back and Nurse said his sales pitch is winning.

“Listen, I think that winning is always the sell,” he said. “Can we be good enough to win it all? That’s got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”

Whatever the roster looks like around MVP Joel Embiid, the 76ers should be title contenders. Nurse has to start laying the groundwork this summer, but his ultimate tests will come next May, not before.