Associated Press

Russell Westbrook, Paul George lead Thunder past Suns for first win

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Thunder didn’t care that Phoenix had just one win this season, was playing the second game of a back-to-back and was missing its leading scorer.

They just wanted to get a win.

Oklahoma City finally broke through for the first time in five tries this season. Paul George and Russell Westbrook each scored 23 points, and the Thunder beat the Suns 117-110 on Sunday.

“It feels special,” guard Dennis Schroder said. “I think we can build off of that win. We’re going to keep getting better. It was a good one tonight.”

Nerlens Noel had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Patrick Patterson added 17 points for the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s victory left the Cleveland Cavaliers, who fired coach Tyronn Lue on Sunday, as the league’s only winless team.

Thunder center Steven Adams did not play after experiencing tightness in his left calf during pregame warmups, and Noel started in his place. Coach Billy Donovan was pleased with the way Noel performed in his first start.

“He did a lot of really good things,” Donovan said. “He was really, really active. He was very active defensively. He scored some points on some lobs and some rolls and he got to the free-throw line. I was really, really impressed with his defense.”

Noel has started 159 of his 228 career games, so he was comfortable in the role.

“Just do this on a nightly basis, just being a professional, ready for whatever is thrown at me in this position,” he said. “Steven wasn’t able to go, so I just kept the same mindset of being able to be ready, no matter what. I knew if I was coming off the bench, if I was starting, I’d play the same way. That’s about it.”

Rookie Elie Okobo scored 18 points and No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix. Devin Booker, who entered the day as the league’s ninth-best scorer at 27.8 points per game, sat out his second straight game with a left hamstring strain.

The Thunder led 62-48 at halftime after shooting 49 percent from the field. George scored 15 points before the break, while Westbrook made just two field goals. The Thunder blew a 14-point halftime lead against Boston on Thursday, so the threat of falling apart still was there.

Westbrook hit back-to-back layups to make it 82-65 in the third. George drained a shot from just beyond half court at the third-quarter buzzer to put Oklahoma City up 96-76.

“It’s one of the funnest basketball games I’ve played in since I’ve been here,” Noel said. “Guys just play so unselfish. This team is really built the right way. Guys just want to make winning plays, and everybody is going to excel when the play style is like that.”

Phoenix outscored the Thunder 34-21 in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of positives in the game,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “You’re not going to feel better – we lost the game. But effort was there. I think we tried, and we tried for 48 minutes.”

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.

The best song you’ll hear about Jimmy Butler bullying Andrew Wiggins into being good (video)

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Jimmy Butler was hard on Andrew Wiggins. That appeared to be the way then-Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau wanted it. Wiggins had the talent. He just needed a more productive mindset.

Thibodeau got fired. Butler is with the Heat.

But Wiggins is still in Minnesota and playing better than ever – specifically citing wanting to shut up the critics.

Do Butler and Thibodeau deserve any credit?

Wordsplayed explored that in rap form on “Off The Dribble.” He also dropped bars on the 76ers’ ceiling, James Harden‘s scoring and Carmelo Anthony‘s resurgence with the Trail Blazers.

Report: Cavaliers rebelling against John Beilein treating them like college players

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Cavaliers coach John Beilein can help players develop, equipping them to win and secure bigger contracts. He also came to Cleveland after a lengthy career in college basketball, where he was always in charge and never had a player on a clear NBA track from the moment he enrolled.

The question was always: Which would happen first – Beilein convincing the Cavs players he’d help them or them pouncing amid his lack of experience with players who carried themselves as professionals?

Just 20 games into his Cavaliers tenure, Beilein appears to be losing the battle.

Joe Vardon and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Cavaliers players are bristling at new coach John Beilein because he’s treating this season like they, and he, are still in college, numerous sources told The Athletic.

It’s already gotten to the point where players are looking past Beilein to his lead assistant, J.B. Bickerstaff, for guidance, those sources said.

Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players

The article quotes multiple unnamed players. The most damning: “Our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA.”

Cleveland has lost 10 of 11. Losing almost certainly contributes to the frustration. But it goes both ways. Issues with Beilein almost certainly contribute to the losing.

The problems aren’t disappearing soon. The Cavs have a bad roster and must figure this out while likely continuing to struggle in games.

Beilein is not good at quickly getting new teams up to speed. His worst seasons, by far, at Canisius, West Virginia and Michigan were his first seasons. All three programs blossomed from there, surely drawing on the lessons Beilein imparted those first years.

But Beilein never had to deal with NBA players who are more empowered to gripe. College seasons are also much shorter. Harping on the fundamentals over a long NBA season will be exhausting for everyone involved.

This was a complication of hiring Bickerstaff as lead assistant. He previously served as head coach of the Rockets and Grizzlies, bringing valuable understanding of the NBA. The problem: Players know that. They can turn to Bickerstaff, undermining Beilein’s authority.

We’ve seen this before in Cleveland. Cavs players scoffed at David Blatt, an NBA newcomer from Europe. Soon enough, lead assistant Tyronn Lue – who played in the NBA and had extensive experience as an NBA assistant – became head coach.

Without the pressure of trying to win immediately with LeBron James, Beilein has a better chance of weathering this storm. But for all his experience, this is a brand-new challenge.