Russell Westbrook

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Three Things to Know: Don’t take Damian Lillard for granted, he explodes for 61 points

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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) Damian Lillard explodes for 61, reminds everyone he is elite. It’s not so much that Damian Lillard is forgotten by fans around the nation as much as just taken for granted. Because he plays in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t end up on national television all that often, and because he’s been consistently so good for so long (but without the Trail Blazers being seen as a real threat to win a ring), fans sleep on him being one of the best and most entertaining guards in the NBA.

Not on Monday.

On Martin Luther King Day, Lillard reminded everyone just how special he can be scoring 61 points, knocking down 11 threes, and scoring seven in overtime to make sure Portland beat Golden State in a showcase TNT game.

The Warriors threw every defense they could find at Lillard: Double teams, a few triple teams, and most of the night Warriors players would pick him up full court. It didn’t matter. Lillard looked every bit the guy who finished top six in MVP voting the past two seasons, the All-NBA guard the last two seasons (and likely a third in a row this season), the guy who just can’t be stopped when he is on. Lillard scored 42 through the first three quarters, added a dozen more — including some clutch threes — in the fourth, then had seven more in OT. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lillard will likely get taken for granted again by fans this season, especially on a Portland team that is 19-26 and made a trade over the weekend — sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan — that was about cutting the team’s luxury tax bill in half. It also signaled to the league the Blazers would be sellers at the trade deadline, looking to get out of the tax entirely. (Expect for Portland to try and ship out Hassan Whiteside in a money-saving trade next.)

It’s a trade that largely waved the white flag on the season. Maybe things go right, Jusuf Nurkic comes back and Portland makes a push up to the final playoff slot in the West — and that’s a big maybe — but they are not a postseason threat this year.

Just don’t wave the white flag on Lillard, he’s still one of the game’s elite guards.

2) Kemba Walker owns LeBron James (at least once in the last 29 games, but he’ll take it). Kemba Walker, toiling away his career in Charlotte on teams where the dream was just making the playoffs, never seemed a threat to the LeBron James juggernauts in Miami and Cleveland. LeBron had beaten Walker 28 consecutive times.

Monday it was Walker’s turn.

Boston crushed the Lakers in a game that had fans flipping over to America’s Got Talent because there was more drama on that stage than the TD Garden. The Celtics took charge with a 12-1 run in the second, grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.7 percent of their missed shots for the game (led by Ennis Kanter), got 20 points from Walker and 27 from Jayson Tatum in a “don’t you dare leave me out of the All-Star Game” performance, and cruised to a 139-107 thumping of the Lakers. Boston led by 14 at half and the entire fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

Jaylen Brown dunking on LeBron pretty much sums up the night.

After that play, Brown stared down LeBron and got a technical — I hate that tech. Let the players show some emotion, let a little trash talk go down. If we wanted emotionless performances we’d put on a Keanu Reeves movie.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said after the game (via the AP). “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

For the Lakers, this is a was a “flush it and move on” game that happens to every team over the course of a season. I’d be careful reading too much into this one game. Anthony Davis returned from his bruised tailbone but looked rusty. LeBron was just off, the Boston defense took Los Angeles out of their flow, and the Lakers stood around a lot and didn’t move off the ball. Marcus Smart had a good defensive game, Tatum’s length helped on that end, but mostly this was just an off night for the Lakers. There are questions about this Los Angeles roster, but one night in Boston didn’t tell us much about them.

3) Russell Westbrook now has a triple-double against every team in the NBA. Before MLK Day, only LeBron James had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook, welcome to that club. Monday he scored 32 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds against the one team still on his list — the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he had played up until this season.

Much like Lillard (mentioned above), we tend to take for granted just how impressive a player Westbrook is — triple-doubles are hard to come by and he just racks them up like they’re his birthright. We need to take a step back and admire what Westbrook does. we’re not going to see the likes of him for a while.

Westbrook’s play didn’t turn around Houston’s slump. The Rockets fell to the Thunder 112-107, that’s four losses in a row and 5-of-6 for the Rockets. In a tight West, these kinds of streaks can damage playoff seeding and Houston needs to right the ship quickly.

Chris Paul scores 28, leads Thunder rally to hand Rockets fourth straight loss

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HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 28 points and Danilo Gallinari added 25 as the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat cold-shooting James Harden and the Houston Rockets 112-107 on Monday.

Paul scored 27 of his 28 points in the first half against his former team. Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, who scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime, carried the Thunder after the break.

Former Thunder player Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Houston. Harden had 29 points but was astonishingly inefficient, making 1 of 17 3-point attempts, as the Rockets’ losing streak stretched to a season-high four games.

Oklahoma City used a 6-0 run, highlighted by a dunk from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after he stole the ball from Harden, to put the Thunder up 108-105 with about a minute left.

Harden made a layup for Houston to cut the lead to one, but Schroder made a jump shot with 28 seconds remaining to make it 110-107. Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Gilgeous-Alexander added two free throws to secure the victory.

Houston had a 15-point lead before the Thunder scored 13 straight points to get within 100-98 with 4 1/2 minutes to go. Gallinari led the way for Oklahoma City in that stretch, making two 3-pointers and adding three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Harden made one of two free throws after that but Gallinari struck again seconds later with another 3 that tied it at 101-all. Gilgeous-Alexander then made one of two free throws to give the Thunder their first lead since the first quarter.

Westbrook made Houston’s first field goal in more than four minutes with a layup with just more than three minutes left. He then added another layup after a steal seconds later to give the Rockets a 105-102 lead with about two minutes to go.

The Thunder trailed by 16 points after three quarters, but a 9-2 run, with five points from Schroder, got them within 91-82 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

Houston trailed by as many as 10 in the first half but led by seven at halftime and used a 9-3 run to open the third quarter and push it to 73-60. P.J. Tucker had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Westbrook added four points.

Houston scored the last four points in a third quarter where Oklahoma City scored just 14 points to make it 87-71 entering the fourth.

 

LeBron James drops 31, leads Lakers comeback to beat Rockets

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HOUSTON — LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers rode a big third quarter to a a 124-115 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

The Lakers bounced back after a loss to Orlando on Wednesday night that snapped their nine-game winning streak. The loss was the third straight for the Rockets, which ties a season high, and they have dropped four of five.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 20 for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points for his fourth straight 30-point game and James Harden had 34 for the Rockets, who also lost three in a row in late November.

Los Angeles didn’t lead in the first half but used a 32-point third quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Houston used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 10 with about seven minutes left, but the Lakers scored the next six points to extend it to 110-94 midway through the quarter. That sent many Rockets fans streaming for the exits and caused a large contingent of Lakers fans to start chanting, “Let’s go Lakers.”

The Rockets did not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

The Lakers opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 69-68, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. James capped that run by making a basket and then added another one seconds later after JaVale McGee blocked a dunk attempt by Clint Capela. McGee beat his chest and screamed after in Capela’s direction after the play and received a technical foul for taunting.

There were about seven minutes left in the third when Westbrook and Anthony Davis, who missed the game with an injury, both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

The Lakers led by three later in the third when Kuzma scored the first four points of a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 85-75.

Houston had a chance to cut the deficit at the end of the third quarter, but Westbrook missed two free throws to leave the Lakers up 91-82 entering the fourth.

Alex Caruso jumps Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry in All-Star voting

Alex Caruso
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
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Alex Caruso‘s All-Star votes caused waves when the Lakers backup ranked sixth among Western Conference guards.

Now, he’s fourth, passing Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

Fourth!

Ultimately, this won’t matter. Caruso won’t be an All-Star. Starters are determined by a formula that combines the votes of fans, players (who’ll barely choose Caruso) and media (who won’t at all choose Caruso). Reserves are picked by coaches (who won’t at all choose Caruso). Caruso getting so many fan votes is funny and nothing more.

Really, if his climb produces any more outrage, that’d further expose the absurdity of this whole process. He passed Westbrook (who has slipped and is no longer playing like a Western Conference All-Star) and Curry (who has missed nearly the entire season due to injury). It’s a popularity contest that only somewhat overlaps with on-court production. Caruso is among the bigger absurdities in All-Star voting, but there’s no sanctity to uphold here.

The latest update in All-Star voting provides minimal meaningful change from the previous returns.

Carmelo Anthony moved from eighth to sixth among Western Conference frontcourt players, passing Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It still seems likely LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard will snag the three Western Conference frontcourt starting spots. But Anthony – who’s highly popular among fellow players – has an outside chance if media votes (which won’t include him) are concentrated enough.

LeBron James still leads the overall voting. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Eastern Conference players, though he trails Luka Doncic. Let me restate my objection: If he has more votes than Antetokounmpo, Doncic should be an All-Star captain. Dividing by conference at the captain-picking stage – when the whole point is no longer dividing the All-Star game by conference – is a bad method.

Likewise, players shouldn’t be divided by conference when selected at all (though I understand Eastern Conference teams want to protect spots for their lesser players).

Maybe we can start by eliminating positional designations. Make the best 26 – yes, 26 – players All-Stars, and let them sort it out on the court.

Here’s the All-Star full leaderboard:

Eastern Conference

Guards

1. Trae Young (ATL) 2,066,924

2. Kyrie Irving (BRK) 1,814,618

3. Kemba Walker (BOS) 1,797,633

4. Derrick Rose (DET) 1,381,934

5. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 848,293

6. Zach LaVine (CHI) 847,632

7. Jaylen Brown (BOS) 718,355

8. Ben Simmons (PHI) 629,199

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 609,899

10. Fred VanVleet (TOR) 546,471

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 4,474,107

2. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 2,433,411

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 2,398,743

4. Jimmy Butler (MIA) 2,046,257

5. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 1,622,635

6. Tacko Fall (BOS) 757,375

7. Bam Adebayo (MIA) 529,244

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 398,213

9. Domantas Sabonis (IND) 381,390

10. Andre Drummond (DET) 325,178

Western Conference

Guards

1. Luka Doncic (DAL) 4,598,323

2. James Harden (HOU) 2,934,614

3. Damian Lillard (POR) 984,140

4. Alex Caruso (LAL) 894,827

5. Russell Westbrook (HOU) 837,187

6. Stephen Curry (GSW) 819,352

7. Donovan Mitchell (UTA) 673,917

8. Devin Booker (PHO) 577,035

9. D’Angelo Russell (GSW) 491,047

10. Ja Morant (MEM) 399,703

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 4,747,887

2. Anthony Davis (LAL) 4,412,619

3. Kawhi Leonard (LAC) 2,973,076

4. Paul George (LAC) 1,171,616

5. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 889,387

6. Carmelo Anthony (POR) 784,038

7. Kristaps Porzingis (DAL) 774,056

8. Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 746,013

9. Brandon Ingram (NOP) 672,666

10. Dwight Howard (LAL) 670,643

Three Things to Know: Ja Morant goes right at James Harden, wins the night

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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) Ja Morant goes right at James Harden, wins the night. For much of Tuesday night, Ja Morant was treating James Harden like the Beard has treated so many helpless big men over the past few years: When Harden got switched onto Morant the rookie would step back, call for a clear out, then embarrass the defender who could not keep up with him.

It was like that all night, and Morant was not afraid to call out Harden more than once for his defense.

“The doubters said I couldn’t shoot, I’m proving them wrong,” Morant said in his walk-off interview after his 26-point, eight assist night that sparked Memphis to a 121-110 win over the Rockets.

If Harden was one of those doubters, he is no longer.

Morant is running away with the Rookie of the Year award that his former AAU teammate in South Carolina Zion Williamson was expected to run away with. Morant is out of Zion’s shadow and has become must-watch television in his own right every time he steps on the court with his amazing passing and fluid athleticism.

“I think the most impressive thing with him is he just gets better, steadily. Game after game, month after month…” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said recently of his young star. The assist totals, his paint finishing, but also now he’s starting to shoot the three-ball better. As a three-point shooter, he’s shooting with more confidence, he’s getting back defensively. He’s a kid who gets better every single day.”

Harden still had 41 on the night but on 13-of-37 shooting. Russell Westbrook sat out for rest (he has done that on half of back-to-backs all season, and the Rockets host Portland tonight).

2) The Utah Jazz winning streak reaches 10 with a win in Brooklyn. Last summer, the Jazz made adding offense the priority — no more “great defense and hope Donovan Mitchell is enough” in the playoffs, the Jazz wanted more guys who could go get buckets.

Utah is on a 10-game winning streak — after knocking off the Nets in Brooklyn Tuesday night 118-107 — and it’s the offense that is driving the streak. In its last 10 games, the Jazz have an offensive rating of 122, best in the NBA over that stretch. The defense has been just average over that same stretch (and fallen to eighth in the league for the season), but it hasn’t mattered because the Jazz offense is on a roll. Utah has won 15-of-16 because of that improved offense.

Joe Ingles has thrived once forced back into a starter’s role (because Mike Conley is out with a hamstring issue), and he led the Jazz with 27 points on Tuesday. Bojan Bogdanovic has been impressive of late, having found a comfort level within the offense. Mitchell remains Utah’s go-to scorer and has averaged 21.4 points per game over the last 10.

Before anyone wants to argue “Utah can hang with the Lakers/Clippers,” there are caveats. Only one of those last 10 wins came against a team with a winning record (the Clippers). Utah’s defense needs to get back to locking teams down again. Finally, Mike Conley is going to return, and the Jazz need to find a way to integrate him into the offense. Come the playoffs — and especially the second round and beyond — teams are going to take away the pet plays and easy buckets the Jazz get from their system and it’s going to come down to individual shot creators. Mitchell can do that, but he needs help (as last year’s playoffs showed). Bogdanovic can pitch in, but that will be why Utah needs Conley and his pick-and-roll skills.

For now though, the Jazz have won 10 in a row and look like a potential threat in the West. Which is what the Utah front office wanted when it made all those summer moves.

3) Kawhi Leonard dominates, scores 43 points in fewer than 30 minutes on the court. When this Kawhi Leonard shows up, there’s nothing anyone can do — especially anyone on this Cavaliers roster.

Leonard got inside and shot 5-of-7 in the paint, hit 6-of-10 from three, dominated on defense, and put up 43 points in 28:44 of court time. Check out his shot chart.

Or, just watch the ridiculous highlights.

Consider this just a mid-season reminder that Leonard can take over a game as well as anyone in the league right now. When this Leonard shows up in the playoffs — with Paul George next to him — the Clippers become a very difficult team to beat.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Trae Young can hit from anywhere (and wants your All-Star vote).