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Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook passes Chamberlain, Harden still chasing

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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 passes Wilt Chamberlain with 10th straight triple-double — and it’s still Paul George’s night. I fear we take what Russell Westbrook is doing for granted. Nobody — not Jordan, Dr. J., Bird, Magic, LeBron, Smush Parker (especially Smush Parker) — had been able to average a triple-double for a season since Oscar Robertson did it back when John F. Kennedy was president and gas cost 28¢ a gallon. It was an unreachable mark.

Russell Westbrook is on pace to do it for a third straight season. The former MVP is averaging 21.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game.

Monday night his 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists was his 10th consecutive triple-double — surpassing Wilt Chamberlain to set a new NBA record. Any time someone passes Wilt on a scoring list, that’s a legendary feat.

And he was the second best player on his team.

Paul George continued his “put me in the MVP race” run of play with 47 points 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

The MVP talk for George is no joke.

Westbrook and George made even more history: This was the first time ever teammates have had 20-point triple-doubles in the same game.

Oklahoma City picked up the 120-111 win against Portland in a game that could have seeding implications in a crowded West down the line.

2) James Harden’s 30-point streak extends, barely, to 30 games in Rockets win. Dallas looked as if it was going to be the team. At some point, James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games is going to end. He’s going to miss some shots, a team will have the waves of long defenders to throw at him, or like Monday night the Rockets could be well ahead (21 points) and Harden would sit the fourth and not be needed, not have the chance to get his numbers.

Harden almost was going to ride this one out on the pine, but Dallas made a 17-7 fourth-quarter run that had the game in single digits more than midway through the fourth, so Mike D’Antoni had to turn back to his star to seal the win.

Harden scored 11 quick points to secure the victory. He drained a step-back three and then hit another from beyond the arc, he got to the line for some free throws. Finally, he drained a deep three that extended the streak — watch him laugh and point to his mother as he runs back down the court.

That’s 30 games in a row of 30+ points for Harden, one short of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s second-longest streak ever of 31 games. The all-time streak is 65 from Wilt, and it’s wild to think Harden isn’t even halfway there.

Houston got the 120-104 win Monday, and that’s been the real MVP move about Harden’s streak — when it started the Rockets were below .500 and out of the playoffs at 13th in the West. Harden is in a zone and putting up points, but more importantly, he’s willed his teams to win and into the postseason chase.

3) Brooklyn makes Toronto work for it, but Kawhi Leonard hits the game winner. Even if he didn’t call bank. A lot of teams, down heading into the final minutes against one of the better teams in the NBA, would roll over and accept their fate. Not Brooklyn. They scrap, they fight, they will not go quietly into that good night.

Monday night the never-say-die Nets went on an 8-0 run late to make it a tight game and force a dramatic ending.D'Angelo Russell hit from beyond the arc to put the Nets up three, but then Danny Green answered to tie the game. However, after a Joe Harris miss, Kawhi Leonard got the rock and knew he was brought to Toronto to hit shots like this.

That Leonard shot had echoes Kobe Bryant — got to his spot at the elbow, elevated, and wasn’t afraid to use the glass. Not a bad guy to mimic.

After the game, Leonard admitted he didn’t call bank. Doesn’t matter. Russell missed a contested three as time ran out, and the Raptors held on for the 127-125 win.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-

Stephen Curry on playing in 2020 Tokyo Olympics: ‘That is the plan, for sure’

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It wasn’t just one thing that had the USA finishing seventh in the recent FIBA World Cup in China, but there was one overriding factor — the USA did not send it’s best players. That’s no knock on Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown and others who sacrificed and certainly gave it their all for Team USA, but we see this every NBA playoffs and now in international ball — the level of play of the top 10 or so players in the world is just different, it  changes and wins games. It takes them to win an NBA title, and now that is true of the gold medal.

Expect some of those elite players to suit up for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Stephen Curry is in the front of that line, he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN.

“That is the plan, for sure. You know, obviously knock on wood, you don’t want any injuries or things like that to interfere…

“Definitely wanna go. I’ve never been on the Olympic team. I’ve been on two World Cup championship gold-medal teams. But the Olympics is the experience that I want. And next year will hopefully be it.”

Draymond Green also has said he wants to suit up for the USA in Tokyo.

This was to be expected. As has been written about before here at NBC (and in numerous other publications), it was poor decisions by the international governing body FIBA — in their quixotic quest to have the basketball world cup rival the soccer version — that hurt the USA’s roster, as well as the rosters of other teams around the world.

FIBA moved this World Cup to 2019 — one year before the Olympics — instead of 2018, when it would have traditionally fallen. This shift kept a number of players away. To play for Team USA is a six-to-seven week summer commitment, during the offseason when players are trying to rest, get their bodies right, relax a little, and spend time with friends and family. Putting the World Cup and Olympics in back-to-back years (and FIBA would love to kill 5-on-5 at the Olympics, but that’s another discussion) had players choosing between the two events, and for Americans the Olympics are always going to win that fight. Also, FIBA scheduled this World Cup for early September, so it ran right up against the start of training camps around the globe, with little break for the players. That was another strike (the Olympics next year run late July to early August, and you can catch it all on NBC).

Expect a number of other elite players to want to head to Tokyo. While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo has talked tough about players who backed out this year, there is no chance he says no to an Anthony Davis/James Harden/Kawhi Leonard level player if they want to go. The USA wants gold and it needs its best players.

Such as Curry.

Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas out 6-8 weeks following thumb surgery

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With John Wall out likely for the season, the Washington Wizards are going to lean on Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas to handle point guard duties (although Bradley Beal will have the ball in his hands a lot and do plenty of playmaking, too).

Now the Wizards will be without Thomas through training camp and into the start of the season after surgery Wednesday to repair a ligament in his thumb, the team announced. The injury happened during a regular workout Monday at the team facility.

“This was an unfortunate setback for Isaiah, but with his resolve and the top care he will receive from our medical team, we expect him to make a full recovery,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard in a statement. “In the meantime, he will continue to mentor our young guards and have a positive impact on the team as we start training camp.”

After Smith and Thomas, the only point guard on the roster is undrafted rookie Justin Robinson (on a non-guaranteed contract).

This is a fluky, unfortunate injury for Thomas, who has battled through years of hip and other injuries and is looking forward to the chance to prove himself with the Wizards. Thomas went to Washington for the opportunity, and that will still be there, but missing camp is a setback.