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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.

Pistons claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks waived Christian Wood late last season to ensure avoiding the luxury tax. The Pelicans claimed him. Wood had played well in limited minutes with the 76ers, Hornets and Bucks and in the NBA’s minor league since going undrafted in 2015.

New Orleans gave him his biggest opportunity yet. In 24 minutes per game over eight games, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds.

But the Pelicans filled their roster for next season and waived Wood.

Detroit will take advantage.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons announced today that the team has claimed forward/center Christian Wood off waivers.

Wood’s $1,645,357 minimum salary is unguaranteed until the regular season. So, Detroit could still waive him before the season. But it seems he’ll at least go to training camp and get a shot at a regular-season roster spot.

The Pelicans also could’ve kept him through the preseason then waived him before the regular season. They seemingly did him a favor of allowing him to get somewhere he has a realistic chance of sticking.

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will start in the frontcourt for the Pistons. Markieff Morris and Thon Maker appear to be first in line is backups.

But don’t be surprised if Wood earns playing time. At minimum, the 23-year-old should provide nice depth at both power forward and center.

The Pistons have also now acquired four members of last year’s Bucks – Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Tim Frazier and now Wood.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.