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 dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle. Russell Westbrook so often puts up ridiculous stat lines we’ve almost become numb to it. There was a time when Oscar Robertson’s averaging of a triple-double for a season seemed like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak — an untouchable record in the modern era — but Westbrook did it. Then did it again. And is about to do it one more time.
Yet what Westbrook did Tuesday night was mind-boggling by even his standards.
Westbrook had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists — the NBA’s second-ever 20-20-20 game. Wilt Chamberlain was the other one.
After the game, Westbrook dedicated the game to slain rapper Nipsey Hustle, who was shot outside his Los Angeles’ clothing store days ago. Westbrook is a Los Angeles guy, and the players from the city know how Hustle gave back and was committed to his neighborhood, trying to lift people up, in a way few celebrities are. He meant a lot to people and the city.
We could nitpick the accomplishment — Westbrook shot just 8-of-23, and he was hunting those rebounds in the final minute — but we shouldn’t try to diminish this singular accomplishment. It is a mind-boggling effort.
Westbrook did this and lifted his team up when the Thunder needed the win, the Thunder beat the Lakers handily. This victory keeps the Thunder tied with the Spurs (who beat the Hawks) for the 7/8 seed in the West. OKC wants to avoid that eight seed and getting the Warriors in the first round because…
2) Golden State flips the switch, dominates Denver, all but secures top seed in West. In this week’s PBT Podcast, Mark Medina — Warriors writer for the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group — had a great line about the Warriors’ up-and-down effort this regular season:
They care and play hard when it’s convenient for them.
Tuesday night it was convenient.
The Warriors needed a win over Denver to lock up home court throughout the West playoffs, and so they came out and flipped the switch, dominated the game leading by 30 in the fourth (the Nuggets are just a poor matchup with the Warriors), and reminded everyone that the Warriors have gears nobody else in the NBA can hit.
And now they have DeMarcus Cousins at center now — he overwhelmed Nikola Jokic and every other Nugget defender in the paint on his way to 28 points and 13 rebounds. In recent games Cousins has seemed to find a comfort level playing with the Warriors, and that should scare teams heading into the postseason.
Kevin Durant pitched in 21 points in less than three quarters before he got ejected.
(Durant and Draymond Green each have 15 technical fouls this season, if either picks up one more before the end of the regular season they will be suspended for a game.)
Stephen Curry pitched in 18 points. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA when they want to be — when it’s convenient for them. During the playoffs, they will flip the switch most nights, and when they do no team in the West is a genuine threat to them. And the Warriors know it.
3) Wizards finally fire Ernie Grunfeld as team president/GM. Next step is big one for Wizards. One could make a very good case that Ernie Grunfeld should have been fired back in the day when he put together a roster with Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, and Nick Young on it. The team where a gun was pulled in the locker room. Of course, one could make the case Grunfeld should have been fired a lot of times, like when he cleared the books and planned around Kevin Durant coming home in 2016 when that was never a realistic option. There was no “Plan B” after Durant went West, not East.
However, it took 16 years and a season where owner Ted Leonsis thought this was a 50-win, conference finals roster — the Wizards never came close to that dream and are going to finish well out of the playoffs — for him to see the light and let go of Grunfeld. That happened on Tuesday.
What’s next is hard.
Whoever is next in the GM chair inherits a mess of a roster. John Wall’s $171 million supermax extension kicks in next season — a season he will miss much of with a torn Achilles — and runs four years. It is the most untradable contract in the NBA right now. Beyond that there’s Ian Mahinmi‘s $15.5 million, Dwight Howard‘s likely will be on the roster (at $5,6 million), and the talented Otto Porter is gone because Leonsis doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax. Oh, and Bradley Beal may well make an All-NBA team and be eligible for a $199 million four-year extension on top of the two years on his current contract — and the Warriors need to lock him up. He’s their best player (whether Wall returns to form or not).
It’s unclear who comes in. Denver’s Tim Connelly is reportedly a target, but would Washington settle for Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas? There are the guys next in line such as Gersson Rosas of the Rockets, Troy Weaver of the Thunder, and Mike Zarren of the Celtics (Zarren is a much longer shot, he will be hard to pull out of Boston). David Griffin’s name will come up. Wizards interim GM Tommy Sheppard deserves a look. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What the Wizards need is a creative mind, because it’s going to take one to build anything competitive around Wall’s contract (even when Wall returns he may well not be the same player). Just as importantly, they need a GM who can manage Leonsis, get him to buy in on what could be some painful next steps. In Washington, that may be the hardest part of the job.