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Russell Westbrook, James Harden square off with streaks on line

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — If these are the dog days of the NBA regular season, that point on the schedule when weary legs and wayward focus undermine productivity, some players appear impervious to such frailties.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden are on that short list, their performances peaking as the All-Star break approaches.

On Thursday, Westbrook recorded his eighth consecutive triple-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in a 117-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He will attempt to match the NBA record of nine consecutive triple-doubles set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68 when Oklahoma City visits Houston on Saturday.

As for Harden, he has scored at least 30 points in 28 consecutive games, the third-longest such streak in NBA history. The top two spots belong to Wilt Chamberlain, who had a 65-game run and a 31-game run in the early 1960s. Harden scored 36 points Wednesday in the Rockets’ 127-101 win at Sacramento.

After averaging a triple-double in each of the previous two seasons, Westbrook is doing so again this campaign. During his current eight-game tear, he is producing 19.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 14.5 assists per game, and the Thunder have won seven times during that stretch.

Pace of play remains critical to Oklahoma City, which ranks second overall behind the Atlanta Hawks with 104 possessions per 48 minutes. With Westbrook lately posting triple-doubles as an afterthought, the Thunder have increased their pace to 105.5 over the past eight games.

“Pace is big for our team,” Westbrook said to NBA.com following the win over Memphis. “There’s a lot of space and an opportunity to make plays. That’s what I tried to do.”

While the Western Conference standings remain in perpetual flux, the Thunder appear to be strengthening their grip on the third seed. The Rockets, currently in fifth place in the West, remain intent upon to make a push up those standings.

It came as little surprise that the Rockets were active at the trade deadline, acquiring guard Iman Shumpert from the Sacramento Kings while jettisoning James Ennis III (to the Philadelphia 76ers), Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight (both to the Cleveland Cavaliers) to free roster spots in order to aggressively pursue additions via what should be a robust buyout market.

Those moves completed the exodus of the five players the Rockets adding during the past offseason, with Carmelo Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams traded earlier this season.

Shumpert is expected to make his Rockets debut against the Thunder. He was put in an odd position on Wednesday when Houston played at Sacramento, cleaning out his locker just prior to his former team playing the team that acquired him only hours earlier.

While the Rockets showed no ill effects of the roster upheaval, they appeared to take advantage of a Kings squad caught in the middle of several players departing while reinforcements had yet to arrive.

“You know, what’s funny is the trade deadline and young teams like that add a couple trades, and it can mess you up,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said postgame. “So I don’t think we saw the best that they’ve been. And it happens.”

Harden snapped out of his 3-point shooting slump against the Kings, finishing 8 of 13 from behind the arc after shooting just 31.9 percent from long range over his previous 12 games.

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Marcus Smart reportedly cleared to play for Team USA

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Through two weeks of training camp, first in Las Vegas then in Los Angeles, through one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition game, Marcus Smart has sat in street clothes.

The Celtics guard has a calf injury that has sidelined him. On Thursday in Los Angeles he took part in the shooting parts of practice during training camp, but not the full-contact scrimmages against the select team. All he could really do was this.

Friday night he never got out of his warmups and did not play against Spain, but he did say on the broadcast he would be back.

Turns out, he was cleared to be back the next day according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.

This takes away a little of the sting of De'Aaron Fox deciding to withdraw from the team just before it left on Saturday for Australia.

It also means four Celtics are on the USA roster: Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. USA assistant coach Steve Kerr jokingly said to me last week he asked Brad Stevens for a thank you gift for running Celtics mini-camp.

Smart is one of the 13 players headed down under for a series of tune-up games before the World Cup (against Australia and Canada). If he’s fully healthy enough to go, Smart is a lock to make the roster because of his physical perimeter defense and ability to shoot the three (36 percent last season in the NBA, and the international line is a little closer in). He likely would come off the bench at the two behind Donovan Mitchell.

Bill Walton broadcast White Sox vs. Angels game and was nothing short of brilliant

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Bill Walton is brilliant.

The Hall of Fame hippie and big man was in the broadcast booth Friday night — not for basketball, but for the White Sox vs. Angels MLB game. Walton loves baseball even if his understanding of the sport is… unconventional.

I want Bill Walton to narrate my life.

The world missed him while he battled serious back issues, it’s so good to have him out and around and being himself again.