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Associated Press

Russell Westbrook was hunting assists, Suns doing everything to deny him Friday night

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Russell Westbrook wanted the record — to secure a triple-double for the season and then to get his 42nd triple-double of this season, breaking Oscar Robertson’s record.

Westbrook needed just six assists to guarantee he would average a triple-double for the season, and from the start of the game he was clearly hunting them. He got his buckets, but he passed up open looks to try to feed teammates. In the third quarter, Westbrook got his sixth assist.

But as the game wound down, with the Thunder down by around 20 most of the time, Billy Donovan kept Westbrook in to get his 42nd triple-double — Westbrook needed a few more assists, and he was hunting them. He was ignoring good shots to try to get them. Westbrook all but admitted it, but in a NSFW way reminded everyone he was not shooting the ball well so he should pass.

The Phoenix Suns were determined not to let Westbrook get that record on their watch. It was obvious.

Jack Maloney at CBSSports.com had a great breakdown, but if you watch the Suns at the end of the game they dared Westbrook to shoot and tried to take away his passing options. This screen shot from the CBS post best shows how the Suns defended the final plays — Westbrook is left wide open.

Westbrook passed up the shot to hit a cutting Steven Adams in the paint, and he was fouled before he could shoot, denying any chance at an assist. And so it went every time down, even with the Suns fouling Westbrook and sending him to the line. At 2:34, he basically subbed himself out and accepted the numbers will have to come another day.

Westbrook has three more chances to get his 42nd triple-double. He has hunted some stats all season (usually rebounds), but the fact remains he was close enough to get those triple-doubles, and the Thunder win three-quarters of their games when he gets one, but only a third of their games when he doesn’t. He has to put up huge numbers for the Thunder to have a chance.

Bad night for Cavs: Lue calls loss to Hawks “stupid,” Irving leaves with sore knee

Associated Press
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The Cleveland Cavaliers had the chance Friday night to go two games up on the Boston Celtics with three to play, and all they had to do was beat an Atlanta team resting Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder, plus Kent Bazemore was out with an injury.

Instead, Cleveland had one of their sloppiest losses of the season. They seemed disinterested in the game and fell 114-100.

Here’s what a frustrated coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

One Cavs source told ESPN it was the “most embarrassing loss of the season by a lot.” Another told ESPN, “I saw it coming,” when he got wind of the Hawks sitting their marquee guys. Yet another told ESPN of the Cavs’ up-and-down nature, “I don’t get it. I don’t f—ing get it.”…

“Just stupid, man,” said Lue, who compared the loss to others in the past when the Cavs fell flat against undermanned opponents (Memphis last season; New Orleans this season). “It’s tough because as a coach you’re searching and trying to get the right guys out there to bring some energy. Guys have been playing 38 and 39 minutes, and Bron, you know, he seems to have the energy every single night. A lot of times guys are not picking that up. Tonight is where we needed guys to pick up the energy and pick up the slack. We just didn’t do it.”

The playoffs should focus the Cavaliers and solve the effort questions.

The bigger concern might be the knee of Kyrie Irving — he sat out the second half of the game due to pain in his knee.

“After halftime my left knee just started kind of flaring up,” said Irving, who finished with 18 points and seven assists. “[Thursday] just was a terrible day for me and my knee. … It was just one of those days. Guys that have had knee surgery before understand that. It was one of those days. I just did my best all of yesterday just trying to recover and do everything possible. So I had a great chance of playing at a high level, and then after halftime it just f—ing flared up. Excuse my language, sorry.”

The Cavaliers need to get him some nights off to get that knee right, they don’t want it to be something chronic that bothers him through the postseason and slows him when it matters. Of course, it would be a lot easier to do that with more of a cushion over the Celtics.

I still don’t think the Cavaliers are in real trouble in the Eastern Conference, so long as they get their focus back and stay healthy. No need to reach for the panic button. But games like this might make Cavs fans want to locate where the button is, just in case.

Lakers’ Julius Randle goes behind the back, then gets and-1 on scoop layup (VIDEO)

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The big man has handles.

Julius Randle had a fantastic start to the season, slumped in the middle, but has come back on of late and showed off the skills that drew the Lakers to him on this drive Friday night against the Kings. He went behind the back, got to the rim, drew the contact and finished the scoop layup for the bucket. How many bigs can do that?

The Lakers won their third game in a row, beating the Kings 98-94 behind 25 from Randle. The win almost guarantees the Lakers will finish with the third-worst record in the NBA — which gives them a slightly worse than 50/50 shot of keeping their pick through the lottery (if it’s in the top three the Lakers keep it, if it is fourth or higher it goes to the Sixers, and if that happens the Lakers 2019 first rounder goes to Orlando).

Stanley Johnson drains late three, Pistons beat Rockets 114-109

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Detroit Pistons gave some of their young and seldom-used players a chance to play Friday night, and it helped them beat the Houston Rockets.

Boban Marjanovic, Detroit’s 7-foot-3 backup center, led the Pistons with a career-high 27 points with 12 rebounds off the bench and Stanley Johnson hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 32.4 seconds left before adding two free throws to lift the Pistons to the 114-109 victory Friday night.

“It was great and we had a bunch of guys out there that really wanted to play,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They weren’t bogged down by the way the season has gone. They had great enthusiasm to play. I don’t care when it is in the year or what the situation is that’s a big part of this is just having a great enthusiasm to play and those guys just did.”

The Rockets led by two after a dunk by Montrezl Harrell before Ish Smith made a basket to tie it. James Harden missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 110-107.

Harden missed another 3-point attempt, and Johnson added the free throws to make it 112-107. Harrell added a layup after that but Tobias Harris tacked on two more free throws with eight seconds left.

Harden finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 33 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. He said players getting rest was no excuse for what happened on Friday night.

“Whoever is in the game has to know what they’re doing on both ends of the floor,” he said. “And just go out there and try to execute.”

The Pistons used a 12-1 spurt, capped by four points from Marjanovic, to cut the lead to 94-93 midway through the fourth quarter. Houston missed seven straight shots in span before Eric Gordon ended the drought with a 3-pointer to make it 97-93.

A 3-pointer by Johnson tied it with about three minutes left before Harden made a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a layup by rookie Henry Ellenson to give Houston a 105-101 lead.

Ellenson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first career start.

Coach Mike D’Antoni rested starting center Clint Capela and said he’ll rest other players in the last three regular-season games after Houston clinched the third spot in the Western Conference on Wednesday.

However, Harden and Patrick Beverley won’t be among those who will sit out because they refused when he asked them.

Reggie Bullock made back to back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get the Pistons within 6. But Houston made the next six points to extend its lead to 93-81.

Smith got the Pistons within 1 point with a jump shot with about nine minutes left in the third quarter before Houston used a 10-3 run, with two 3-pointers from Harden, to make it 69-61 midway through the period.

The Pistons scored seven straight points, with five from Harris, to cut the lead to 76-73 with about two minutes left in the quarter.

But Houston outscored the Pistons 9-2 the rest of the quarter to lead 87-75 entering the fourth. Lou Williams scored the seven points in that span and Harden capped the run with a reverse layup.

Houston led by as many as 11 in the first half and was up 54-52 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Michael Gbinije missed the game with a respiratory infection. … Smith finished with 20 points. … The Pistons had just six turnovers. … Andre Drummond had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets: Harden made seven 3-pointers for his 35th game this season with at least four 3-pointers. … Beverley had six points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

THEY SAID IT

Marjanovic on his career-best performance: “I’m more happy because we won this against a very, very good team. We just played hard like you’re supposed to do.”

ANDERSON’S RETURN

Ryan Anderson returned after missing the last six games with a sprained right ankle. He had nine points, three rebounds and a block. D’Antoni said before the game that he’d limit him to 20 minutes in his first game back, but played him for just 13 minutes, where were all in the first half.

 

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

DeMar DeRozan has 38 points, Raptors beat Heat 96-94

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TORONTO (AP) – DeMar DeRozan scored 38 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Miami Heat 96-94 on Friday night in their final home game of the regular season.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s franchise record with his 31st 30-point game of the season, shooting 14 of 32 from the floor. Carter set the mark in 2000-01.

Cory Joseph added 14 points, and Kyle Lowry had 12 in his second game back form an injury.

James Johnson had 22 points for Miami against his former team. Goran Dragic added 18 for the Heat. They remained ninth in the Eastern Conference with three games to play.

Behind since the 9:24 mark of the first quarter, the Heat finally tied it with 4:43 remaining on Hassan Whiteside‘s alley-oop dunk. But the Raptors’ Serge Ibaka countered with a 3-pointer to put Toronto up 85-82.

Whiteside closed the gap to a point with a hook shot seconds later, but the Raptors scored the next five points through Lowry and DeRozan, who finished a driving spinaround layup to increase Toronto’s lead to 90-84 with 1:52 to go.

A foul on DeRozan sent him to the line to add another two points, and though another two free throws and a layup from Johnson cut it to 92-88. DeRozan’s layup with 25.4 seconds put the Raptors back in control. A 3-pointer from Miami’s Tyler Johnson with 1.2 seconds left capped the scoring.

TIP-INS

Heat: F Luke Babbitt (hip) missed the game. Miami players have missed 312 games due to injury or illness, the most in the NBA.

Raptors: Toronto won the season series against the Heat for the third straight season. Before the final regular-season home game, DeRozan addressed the fans from center court to thank them for their support this season. For the sixth and final time this season, the Raptors wore their blue-and-white Toronto Huskies jerseys, commemorating the 1946-47 Basketball Association of America franchise. Toronto is 6-0 while wearing the throwback uniforms.

JOLTIN’ JOE

The Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener isn’t until Tuesday, but Blue Jays legend Joe Carter, whose walk-off home run ended the 1993 World Series, was in attendance on Friday. After being presented with a personalized Toronto Huskies shirt, Carter threw signed mini basketballs into the crowd.