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Three Things to Know: Westbrook-Nurkic beef ends up giving Thunder OT win

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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/Jusuf Nurkic beef ends up leading to Thunder win (with some help from refs). To understand what happened in the final minute of regulation between the Raptors and Trail Blazers on Thursday night, you have to go back to January. It was then, after an Oklahoma City win over Portland, that Russell Westbrook was asked about fighting over Jusuf Nurkic’s massive screens to chase down Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum. Westbrook responded he didn’t want to talk about “that clown,” which led Nurkic to post this on Twitter.

The beef is real, which leads to this in the second quarter.

Westbrook got a Flagrant 1 for that, seems about right to me. Nurkic got a technical for… getting knocked over? The referees said that upon review Nurkic intentionally tripped Westbrook as they ran up the court, which started the entire thing. First, it looks like incidental contact to me, nothing intentional by Nurkic that deserved a tech. Second, the play is not even reviewed if Westbrook does not decide to retaliate and pick up the Flagrant.

Nurkic was feeling knocked around all night and not getting the calls, even in the final minute.

Nurkic was on edge, so when he got into it with George again seconds later he earned a technical going head-to-head — headbutt light, if you will — with the Thunder forward after a foul.

That’s two technicals, and Nurkic was ejected, right before his free throws would have tied the game. Thunder coach Billy Donovan then gets to choose the shooter and wisely picked Skal Labissiere to take the shots he missed the first, then intentionally missed the second — and that’s where Markieff Morris fouled Al-Farouq Aminu (it was a foul, just one the referees usually don’t call at that point in the game, leading to makeup speculation). Aminu drained both, and after a Westbrook turnover we were headed to overtime.

There, without Nurkic, Portland was in trouble, and the Thunder pulled away for the win. Westbrook ends the night with 37 points, including eight in overtime, while Paul George pitched in 32 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with a season-high 51.

Why this game matters is these teams came into the night tied — along with Houston — for the three/four/five seeds in the West. As you read this the Thunder are the three seed, the Rockets four, and the Trail Blazers five. Playoff seeding is going to matter a lot in the West, both in terms of matchups and staying out of the Warriors side of the bracket. (If you’re calculating West playoff seedings, know that Utah is just a couple of games back of these three and has the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, they will be right in the middle of that group by the end.)

2) Don’t make Giannis Antetokounmpo angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. As has been the story in a number of games recently, the Pacers were overmatched against the Bucks Thursday night but they are good enough and feisty enough to make a game of it. The Pacers had come from 14 down at one point to make a game of it in the third, cutting the Bucks lead to six.

That’s when Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim.

No foul. Antetokounmpo wanted one, laid there on the floor for a minute, then ran straight to referee Nick Buchert to complain. The Greek Freak got a technical.

At that point he was just pissed off — and the Pacers were doomed.

The Bucks went on a 13-0 run to essentially put the game away.

Then to cap it all off, Giannis did this.

Pick against Milwaukee in the playoffs at your own peril.

3) Lakers throw in the towel, will limit LeBron James’ minutes the rest of the way. This should not be a surprise. The Lakers needed to go on a run to make the playoffs back at the All-Star Game, and when asked about it LeBron James said he was activating playoff mode early to get his team there. The Lakers have gone 2-6 since. Laker players can book their hotel rooms in Cabo for April 10, they aren’t going to be busy after that.

LeBron has not looked 100 percent since missing 17 games with a groin injury. At one point against the Clippers Monday, LeBron grabbed his groin area and asked out for a minute, clearly in pain. After that loss (which all but sealed the Lakers’ playoff fate) he was asked about scaling back his minutes after playing 42 and said:

“Well, I mean, that’s a conversation that would probably be had between me and Luke [Walton]… We didn’t take care of business, so you kind of look at the rest of the games, and the percentages of what’s going on there in the future, and see what makes more sense not only for me but the team itself as well.”

What makes sense is fewer minutes. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports he will play 28-32 a night (the upper end of that might have been a good target number for the season average for LeBron) and may sit out back-to-backs. At this point, the Lakers need to think about preserving LeBron and how they are going to win this summer, too. Because the pressure is on Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to have a big summer again.

LeBron James dunks on Astros, Rob Manfred in Tweet

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Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has had a rough couple of weeks.

And now he’s been dunked on by LeBron James.

Bet he didn’t see that coming. LeBron took to Twitter to stand in solidarity with MLB players (well, not the players on the Astros, but the rest of them) in the wake of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.

First things first: Tighten up your hashtags, LeBron. That’s too long.

LeBron’s frustration follows a long list of MLB players who have spoken out with a similar sentiment:  Mike TroutCody Bellinger, and Aaron Judge, to name a few.

Manfred came down hard on the Astros, but was it hard enough? He suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year without pay, and the team subsequently fired both of them. Manfred fined the Astros $5 million, and took away their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two drafts.

The Astros apologized, but without seeming terribly apologetic. Manford could strip the Astros of their titles, but the NCAA did that to Louisville and did anyone actually notice?

I appreciate LeBron’s outrage, and I don’t doubt his sincerity. However, if you think the NBA is on some moral high ground and some organizations wouldn’t cheat to win, I have this Nigerian prince who has a business proposition I want you to meet.

 

Kyrie Irving reportedly re-aggravates right shoulder, to see specialist

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Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season with shoulder bursitis, but rather than have surgery he got a cortisone shot eight weeks ago and was able to return to the court for nine games. Eventually, a knee issue sidelined him.

Now he has re-aggravated that shoulder and, once again, will see a specialist, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media on Tuesday.

There are no details on if there is a specific moment the re-aggravation happened. Irving had been trying to avoid surgery, but that could be back on the table. Irving and the Nets may take a few weeks to make their decision on a next step.

Atkinson may not go there but the rest of us can — it would be a surprise to see Irving back this season. At this point, the smart play is to let Spencer Dinwiddie run the offense the rest of the way, play hard and see what happens in the playoffs, then return next season with a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving has played in just 20 games this season, but without him the Nets are still the seven seed in the East at 25-28.

 

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, and the Cavs’ players have clashed with Beilein and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat those players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. Those NBA players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

Hiring Beilein is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. That has happened, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout.

Once Jackson clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.