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Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook’s sprained ankle could alter West race

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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 sprains ankle, potentially changing the complexion of the West. The poet laureate that is Steven Adams summed it up best: “It’s s—. Just real s—. Feels bad.”

In the third quarter of what was ultimately the Thunder’s fifth straight win Monday night, Russell Westbrook went up for a rebound next to Anthony Davis and when he came down rolled his left ankle. Badly. As in drop to the ground, screaming in pain, have to be helped back to the locker room badly.

What we know for sure is that it’s an inversion sprain, that the Thunder are calling it a “high ankle sprain,” and that X-rays were negative. As is the case with most sprains, it will take until the next day and an MRI to determine the actual severity.

If it’s a grade 1 sprain, Westbrook likely misses a week or two. If it’s a grade 2 sprain, he could be out a month or more. Westbrook has an incredibly high pain tolerance and will want to be back on the court tomorrow, but it becomes more questions of stability and mobility. Bottom line, the Thunder are wed to Westbrook with his new max contract for a long time and they are not risking the future (or this becoming chronic) for a few wins now.

The Thunder are 7.7 points per 100 possessions better when Westbrook is on the court and have won five straight. They are not the same team without Westbrook and will now have to ask a lot more of Dennis Schröeder. The good news is they move into a relatively soft part of the schedule for a couple of weeks (Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, the Knicks) so they should be able to hold their ground.

However, if this is a Grade 2 sprain, if the Thunder have to go a month or more without the former MVP, it could alter the shape of the West playoff chase. It’s watching and waiting now with Westbrook’s ankle.

2) Jamal Murray drops 48, Nuggets would like you to know they are for real in West. Unfortunately, the end of this game became the story — Jamal Murray had 48 points, the Nuggets were up by 12 and there were only a few seconds left on the clock, the classy thing to do would be to dribble it out and walk off winners. Murray jacked up a three trying to get to 50 points. It pissed off the Celtics, and even the veterans and coach on the Nuggets pulled Murray aside after the game and told him not to break the unwritten rule.

Whatever. That was so Jamal Murray it was almost funny. If the Celtics really want to be upset it should be about the fact Murray owned them and dropped 48 in the first place.

The Nuggets are no fluke — a 9-1 start that includes handing Golden State its only loss and now a win over Boston. Denver has a top-10 offense, as we expected (it will probably climb up from its current ninth), but it’s the team’s third-ranked defense that has both surprised and not fallen off the map as expected. Even Nikola Jokic is playing pretty good defense (at least he’s a big body in the right spot much of the time).

Boston’s level of execution stunned the Nuggets at the start of the game, a 10-2 run that had coach Mike Malone calling an early timeout. It was right then Murray got hot — he hit a couple of threes out of the timeout and it was on. Still, Boston led by 18 in the first quarter, it was in the second that a 19-8 Nuggets run got it close, and we had a game.

The difference was Murray had 19 in the fourth quarter, and once he got rolling nothing Brad Stevens and Boston could throw at him mattered. Murray did much of his damage in one-on-one situations off a pick-and-roll where he got a matchup he liked. Which by the end seemed to be any matchup. But Murray has become a strong one-on-one scorer, providing a balance Denver’s offense needs.

The Nuggets are not going to maintain this pace (Cleaning the Glass currently projects them at 66 wins, that’s not happening). But they are for real — a team that may well not only host the first playoff round but will be a tough out for anyone in the second round. It’s time to take Denver seriously, if you weren’t already.

3) Zach LaVine drops 41 in Madison Square Garden, including game-winning free throw in double overtime. Count me among the people who ripped the Bulls for giving Zach LaVine four-years, $78 million this summer. I thought it was a serious overpay.

Count me among the people eating my words.

LaVine is averaging an efficient 27.9 points per game, has an impressive true shooting percentage of 60.2, and looks like an All-Star. He still can’t defend but is offense has covered that up and then some. The season highlight came on Monday night when LaVine dropped 41 on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, including the game-winning free throw with 0.2 seconds left in double overtime.

Give the man his due, he’s been amazing so far.

Donovan Mitchell goes off for 19 in fourth quarter, Jazz hold off elimination with win

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This game just felt different — the Utah Jazz were playing with a passionate desperation we had not seen from them all series. Down 3-0 to Houston, Utah did not want to be swept out of the playoffs on their home court. The Jazz defended better, got a big night from Jae Crowder (14 points in the first quarter alone), and were knocking down shots.

But Utah could not pull away. Houston was always within striking distance.

Until the fourth quarter.

That’s when Utah went on a 12-1 run early, sparked by Donovan Mitchell who had 19 in the fourth, and the Jazz created some separation and held on for the 107-91 win.

Mitchell finished with 31 on the night.

Mitchell had some help. Crowder finished with 23 points, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists.

“We were okay until the last quarter… again, they had more of a desperation than we had,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden got his, 30 points on 19 shots, in part because he went 6-of-12 from three. Chris Paul had 23 as well. All the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night. In the fourth, the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

For the Rockets this is a blown chance to get more rest. The Warriors play Wednesday night in Game 5 of their series, if the Rockets had closed the series out they could have had a little more rest. Instead, they also now have a Game 5 Wednesday.

For the Jazz, this was a matter of pride, they finally found what it would take for them to beat the Rockets. It was their most energized defensive performance of the series, and the shots were falling. The series is not in doubt — no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series — but the Jazz showed the fight and resilience we have come to expect from a Quin Snyder coached team.

Will that be enough Wednesday night is another question.

Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov

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Following a 19-63 season where the man who hired him — GM Ryan McDonough — was already shown the door, there was a lot of speculation that coach Igor Kokoskov was next on the chopping block.

That happened Monday night, the Suns decided to move on from Kokoskov.

“After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position,” said Suns general manager James Jones in a statement. “I want to thank Igor for his work this past season and wish him the best with his future endeavors.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added some detail.

The Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations. Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job, hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there.

Williams will have his second interview with the Lakers next week. Williams is rumored in some quarters to be the frontrunner for the Los Angeles job (he and Tyronn Lue will have second interviews coming), the Suns are starting this race from behind but do have a relationship there.

Kokoskov was the first European born person to be a head coach in the NBA. He was Luka Doncic‘s national team coach, but the Suns took Deandre Ayton No. 1 (reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Saver).

Kokoskov was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader, so it’s no surprise the Suns and Kokoskov got off to a slow start, going 4-18 and looking a mess. However, the team improved, Kelly Oubre Jr. was added, and the Suns went an improved 8-15 after the All-Star break, including wins against the Bucks and Warriors. Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement. That said, there were questions about Kokoskov’s rotations and communication with players.

Phoenix, with meddling owner Robert Sarver at the helm, is known for turnover and instability — whoever is hired next will be the team’s seventh head coach in eight years. This move just fits right in with the perception.

 

Bucks win first playoff series in 18 years, give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak in NBA history

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DETROIT – Between on-court postgame interviews, Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pit stop at the Bucks’ bench for a drink. He appeared to need a few moments to catch his breath, so Fox Sports Wisconsin reporter Katie George asked whether he was ready.

Antetokounmpo nodded as if he didn’t give it a second thought.

Of course he was ready.

Antetokounmpo was ready for everything tonight.

He scored 41 points – the most so far by anyone this postseason – and blocked four shots to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 Game 4 win over the Pistons. By sweeping Detroit, Milwaukee got its first playoff-series victory in 18 years.

“Where we were and where we are right now,” Antetokounmpo said, “it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

The Bucks advance to face the Celtics in the second round, an awaited rematch of last year’s first-round series. But Milwaukee cared far more about its opening round than most 60-win No. 1 seeds do.

Every NBA MVP besides Kevin Garnett, who didn’t advance until his ninth year, won a playoff series in his first five seasons. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win MVP this year, just won his first series in his sixth season.

The wait has been even longer for Milwaukee, which ends the fourth-longest playoff-series-victory drought of all-time at 17 seasons:

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The Bucks left no doubt, beating Detroit by 35, 21, 16 and 23. This is just the second four-game sweep with every game won by at least 15 points in NBA history (Celtics over Rockets in 1980).

The sweep gives the Pistons sole possession of the longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time, 14 games:

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Detroit’s streak includes 2009 and 2016 sweeps by the Cavaliers, meaning the Pistons have now gone 11 straight seasons without winning a playoff game. That’s one of the longest such droughts of all-time (record during drought listed):

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Detroit just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who drew 16 fouls Monday. The most impressive came as he rose to dunk on Andre Drummond, withstood contact and shifted to make a circus shot:

The play left his teammates in awe.

Eric Bledsoe: “I had to tell him, ‘Bro, you don’t understand how athletic you’ve been all season and finessing at the rim.’ That one, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable, man.”

Pat Connaughton: “There are sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head at some of the things that he can do. … I think the nickname ‘Freak’ is for a reason.”

Nikola Mirotic: “It was just amazing watching him tonight”

The Bucks will have a little time to lock back in.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals. It’ll be the first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007.

As Antetokounmpo repeatedly said in the locker room after tonight’s game, “I can’t wait.”

Report: Luke Walton sued for sexual assault

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Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter claiming sexual assault from a hotel room incident that dates back to before he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach (he was recently let go from that position and is currently the coach of the Sacramento Kings).

Kelli Tennant was writing a book and wanted Walton to write the forward, according to a lawsuit obtained by TMZ. The two had a business relationship and she agreed to meet him in a Santa Monica hotel to discuss him writing the forward to the book, according to the report. We’ll let TMZ take it from there:

In the suit, Tennant says when she arrived at Walton’s hotel, he convinced her to come up to his room so they could discuss the book. She claims when they got up to his room, Walton suddenly pinned her to the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body.

In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.

The lawsuit goes on to say Walton and her would interact after that, because of her job, and he would give her exaggerated hugs, kisses, and would make lewd comments to her.

Walton took over coaching the Lakers for the 2016-17 season. The alleged assault took place while Walton was still an assistant coach with the Warriors, however, some of the comments/actions that made her uncomfortable came later while Walton was with the Lakers.

Walton’s attorney released a statement to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

The Sacramento Kings have made a statement:

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The Warriors issued this statement:

“We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

The Lakers issued this statement:

“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”