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Three Things to Know: Westbrook dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle

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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 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.

Playoffs statement? Boston builds 40-point lead, routs Toronto

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The way the NBA standings look right now, there’s a reasonable chance that the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors could be slotted to see each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And Celtics coach Brad Stevens is already making it clear — if that happens, a blowout win over the Raptors now won’t mean anything then.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, Jayson Tatum added 18 and the Celtics never trailed on the way to an emphatic 122-100 win over the Raptors on Friday night. Kemba Walker scored 17 points in 23 minutes for the Celtics, who led by 40 at one point and kept slim hope alive of catching the Raptors for the No. 2 spot in the East race.

“This game will mean nothing if we get that opportunity again,” Stevens said. “They’re a really good team. I thought they missed a lot of open looks and it just wasn’t their night. Our guys played well, but it won’t mean anything in a couple weeks.”

Boston also won the season series against Toronto, taking three of the four meetings. The Celtics also won back-to-back games for the first time in the bubble.

“We’re enjoying each other and building chemistry,” Tatum said.

Fred VanVleet scored 13 for Toronto, which got 11 from Kyle Lowry and 11 more from Pascal Siakam. The Raptors’ starters — VanVleet, Lowry, Siakam, Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby — combined to shoot 16 for 45 (36%) from the field, 3 for 19 (16%) from 3-point range.

“One thing about this team, we always bounce back and we always stick together,” Toronto’s Norman Powell said. “I’m not too worried.”

Toronto’s biggest deficit in its first three games in the bubble was six points against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors trailed Miami by three, then didn’t trail Orlando at any point in their game on Wednesday.

But only five minutes into this one, the Raptors were down eight.

And it would only get worse from there for the reigning champions.

The biggest deficit Toronto had faced this season was a 30-point hole against Dallas on Dec. 22, a game where the Raptors rallied to win. The Celtics didn’t allow anything close to a rally on Friday — after the Raptors closed within 10 early in the third, Boston went on a 36-12 run over the final 9:39 of the quarter.

It was 91-57 entering the fourth, and the Raptors went with subs the rest of the way. Making the night even worse for Toronto: forward Serge Ibaka left early in the fourth after getting hit in the face on a drive by Boston’s Gordon Hayward.

“I hate to say it, but there’s nothing really I learned,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “The only thing I probably did learn is we’ve got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better.”

Nets, Magic lock up playoff spots in East; Grizzlies help own cause in West

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The NBA playoff picture is getting a little clearer, and the Eastern Conference field of qualifiers is now set.

Brooklyn and Orlando clinched the last two remaining East spots Friday, meaning no play-in series — a new wrinkle added to the rules of the NBA’s season restart at Walt Disney World — will be needed on that half of the bracket.

Brooklyn secured its trip by defeating Sacramento 119-106. Orlando’s spot was clinched when Washington lost to New Orleans 118-107 later Friday, eliminating the Wizards from contention.

The Nets and Magic will be No. 7 and No. 8, in some order, in the East playoffs. The No. 8 seed will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs, which begin Aug. 17. The No. 7 seed could meet the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who currently hold — but have not secured — the East’s No. 2 spot.

For the Nets, the clinching comes as something to savor in a topsy-turvy season.

Kevin Durant couldn’t play at all because of his recovery from Achilles surgery — yet still got a $1 million contract bonus because Brooklyn made the postseason. Kyrie Irving missed much of the year because of injury, the Nets had several regulars opt out of participating in the restart, changed coaches in March and have used 24 players so far this season.

“It’s great to punch our own ticket into the playoffs,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I joked with the guys: I like my laundry being done, but nothing like doing your own laundry.”

Orlando could have clinched with a win Friday, but lost to Philadelphia 108-101. The Wizards lost about an hour later, falling to 0-5 in the bubble. Washington was one of nine teams from the East who qualified for the restart, but has since fallen behind Charlotte into 10th place in the conference.

Philadelphia’s win tightened the race for No. 4 in the East. The 76ers (42-27) are tied with Indiana for the fifth-best record in that conference, one game behind fourth-place Miami (43-26).

The race for the last unclaimed playoff spot in the Western Conference remains close, with teams vying to grab the No. 8 spot and play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. If the eighth- and ninth-place teams are within four games of one another when the seeding game schedule ends next week, there will be a two-game series to determine who gets the last playoff spot.

Should that series take place, the ninth-place team would have to go 2-0 in a best-of-two series to advance.

Memphis remained alone in eighth out West, after the Grizzlies snapped a four-game bubble losing streak by beating Oklahoma City on Friday 121-92. The Grizzlies are one game ahead of Portland in the West standings.

“We channeled what we’ve done all season long,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We played Grizzlies basketball. Grizzlies basketball equals Grizzlies wins, more often than not. We hadn’t done that in the first four games.”

San Antonio leaped idle Phoenix into 10th in the West by beating Utah 119-111, with the Spurs improving to 3-2 in the bubble. The Spurs (30-38) are one game behind Portland in the standings.

“At the end of the day, we can’t control what they’re doing,” Spurs center Jakob Poeltl said. “We can only control what we’re doing. We’re going to take every game as it comes. We’re going to try to win every game.”

Phoenix, Sacramento and New Orleans remain in the mix for a West play-in series spot. The Suns, who are 4-0 at Disney, play Miami on Saturday.

Training camps for “delete 8” reportedly might happen inside Orlando bubble

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Whether the eight teams not invited to the NBA restart will have training camps and get together for scrimmages depends on who you ask. There are some teams adamant they will be at a massive disadvantage if their young teams go nine months without playing competitive NBA basketball. The problem is bringing teams together creates coronavirus issues that are not easily eliminated.

Which led to an idea: Why not bring those eight teams into the Orlando bubble on the Walt Disney World Resort campus and let them practice/play there?

It’s being talked about as an option reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

What if those eight teams joined the rest of their colleagues inside the Walt Disney World bubble for training after the eliminated teams departed? Sources say the NBA has been exploring that possibility for quite some time now, and that the idea was raised most recently on the aforementioned governors’ call. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense.

As NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has made clear all along, the union has been skeptical of any basketball setting that doesn’t match the Orlando approach in terms of precautions and protocol. But starting on Aug. 17, when six teams go home and the 16-team playoffs begin, space will be opening up inside this three-hotel, three-court, (seemingly) COVID-free community they have created.

More space will open up in the bubble as more teams are eliminated from the postseason, although some of those rooms were to be used by family of team staff still in the bubble. It’s a delicate balancing act for the league.

The eight teams in question are Golden State, Minnesota, Cleveland, Atlanta, Detroit, New York, Chicago, and Charlotte.

Putting together a second bubble for the “delete eight” was never likely to happen, it’s a logistical nightmare, and it’s expensive (but without the television money payoff of the actual bubble). There is some logic to inviting those eight teams to Orlando.

Whether it happens or not remains to be seen.

Memphis picks up first win since restart, beats Oklahoma City

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 22 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their first win since the restart with a 121-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ja Morant had 19 points and nine assists for the Grizzlies.

Memphis lost its first four restart games and would have fallen into a tie with Portland for eight place in the Western Conference standings with a loss.

“As a whole, we never doubted ourselves, doubted what we can accomplish as a team,” Morant said. “But like, we all was very confident in our team and feel like tonight, we just went out and played freely and we were able to come out with a win.”

Chris Paul scored 17 points and Luguentz Dort added 16 for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points on 3 for 13 shooting.

The Thunder looked nothing like the team that rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Oklahoma City missed a chance to move into a tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the West.

Oklahoma City led by 18 in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies rallied to take the lead in the second. The Thunder made 7 of 13 3-pointers in the first quarter but 6 of 30 the rest of the way.

“I thought it was a little bit of fool’s gold in the first quarter,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

Memphis led by nine in the final seconds of the first half. Danilo Gallinari hit a 3 for the Thunder with 4.6 seconds left, then Paul got a steal and hit a corner 3 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 63-60 at halftime.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 32-18 in the third quarter to go up 95-78 at the end of the period.

“They started making shots,” Paul said. “We never really made them feel us all game long. They were just so comfortable. They got a little bit of everything. They got floaters, they got the threes, they got to the free-throw line. Our defense was just bad today.”