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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.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.

 

Celtics try to play down postgame yelling, things thrown in locker room

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“You’re not supposed to be happy when you’re down 0-2. Nothing out of the ordinary, just talking about the game.”

Jayson Tatum is right in his postgame comments, to a point. The Boston Celtics should be frustrated after blowing a 17-point lead and losing to the Miami Heat Thursday night, putting the Celtics in an 0-2 hole.

However, that part about “nothing out of the ordinary” and “just talking” in the locker room postgame? That’s not what went down, according to multiple reporters on the scene in the bubble.

After the game, the Celtics tried to play it all down. That started with coach Brad Stevens.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss.”

Kemba Walker wouldn’t even discuss it.

“It was nothing. It was nothing. I’m not speaking about it.”

Enes Kanter took to Twitter to echo the comments of several Celtics, that they are still a family.

Boston may have just been venting postgame, but if they don’t bring the fire from the locker room out onto the court Saturday for Game 3, or this may be a very short series.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites now.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101 (Miami leads series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 19, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Sept. 18, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Boston zoned out in second half, Miami comes back to take 2-0 series lead

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The Miami Heat love bubble playoff games — the Heat are 10-1 in the NBA’s self-created, concentrated basketball environment (and the one loss was by three in overtime to Milwaukee).

Miami also loves its zone defense, something it broke out regularly during the regular season but sat on and didn’t show in the first two rounds of the playoffs (literally zero zone defensive possessions against the Pacers and Bucks, according to Synergy Sports). In Game 2, they went to it for 36 possessions, most in the second half.

The Boston Celtics were thrown off by the zone, scoring 17 points in the third quarter, shooting 4-of-14 from three in the second half, and watching Jimmy Butler make plays like this.

And this, reading a Brad Stevens pet out of bounds lob play to seal the win.

Miami came from 17 down to beat Boston 106-101, giving the Heat a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is Saturday.

After the game, there was reported yelling by Marcus Smart and throwing of things in the Boston locker room.

“Guys were emotional… after a hard loss,” Boston coach Brad Stevens delicately put it.

The Boston coach also wasn’t buying into talk of the Miami zone defense being the story of the night.

“This isn’t about zones and defenses or offenses. We just need to be better,” Stevens said.

Boston did do better in the first half. After getting outscored by 22 in the paint in Game 1, the Celtics came out in Game 2 and attacked the rim, brought Enes Kanter and his inside scoring off the bench early, shot 10-of-13 at the rim, and won the points in the paint battle 32-18 in the first half.

Then in the second half, with the Heat often in a zone, the Celtics just tried to shoot over the top of it rather than get into the middle of it.

Miami just kept making shots and making plays. Goran Dragic led all Heat players with 25, Bam Adebayo had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Duncan Robinson had 18 going 6-of-12 from three (and keeping Miami close in the first quarter).

Boston had 23 from Kemba Walker, who bounced back with a strong offensive game after a rough first game of this series. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had 21.

The Celtics are by no means out of this series, but right now they are not executing their game plan with the grit and intensity the Heat bring.

Boston needs to bring the fire they showed in the locker room postgame to the court in Game 3, or the Celtics will find themselves in a hole they cannot get out of.