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.