Associated Press

Three things we learned Monday: In game of Westbrook vs. World, the world won

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We know you were busy finishing your holiday shopping Monday night — yes, you can just buy your dad a bottle of bourbon — so here are the big takeaways from the night in the NBA that you missed.

1) Russell Westbrook needs a little help — from teammates, officials, anyone really. Russell Westbrook is pretty much turning into the exasperated kid on the playground yelling, “little help here” as the ball rolls away, only to have to go get it himself anyway.

Monday night Westbrook didn’t get the help he wanted from his teammates for 47 minutes or from the referees in the final one, and the result was a 110-108 Atlanta win in Oklahoma City. It was a night of Westbrook vs. the World, and the smart money was on the world. Not coincidentally, this is the fourth game in a row Victor Oladipo has missed with a sore right wrist — he will not need surgery, but he’s going to miss more time — and the Thunder are 1-3 in that stretch.

Westbrook made plays. He shot 16-of-33, was attacking the rim and getting to the line (11-of-13), but also was knocking it down from the midrange, where he was 8-of-14. The problem was the other Thunder starters combined to shoot 30.8 percent for the game. It forced Westbrook to take on more and more. The result was a lot more Westbrook isolation, and Atlanta’s defense made the shots for Westbrook tougher and tougher as the night went on — he still hit 8-of-16 contested shots (stat via NBA.com).

But in the final minute, the referees swallowed their whistles and Westbrook did not get the calls he wanted. After Paul Millsap had given Atlanta the lead on a short jumper (where Westbrook and Andre Roberson messed up the switch), Westbrook brought the ball up and attacked the basket but didn’t get the call, did get his own rebound, but couldn’t hit the follow-up. The Thunder still had 2.9 seconds, and Kyle Singler got the ball into Westbrook who took a contested three — and tried to sell the foul call but didn’t get it. Steven Adams got the rebound, but rather than flipping it up quickly to the bucket he tried to dunk it, and time expired before he got it off. Ballgame.

Needless to say, after the game Westbrook was more than a little frustrated.

Give the Hawks credit here. On a night Dwight Howard was out, Mike Budenholzer started a small lineup and got the first 30-point game of the season from Paul Millsap, who was his All-Star self, seeming to score at will. But the real star was Dennis Schroder, who had 31 points and eight assists, who took advantage of mismatches off switches on the picks all night and seemed to get into the lane whenever he wanted. This was a good win for a Hawks team that could use a couple of those after their recent slump.

2) Nikola Jokic has a coming out party, and Denver is just half a game out of the playoffs. Denver coach Mike Malone’s new starting lineup and frontcourt rotation — a lot of Nikola Jokic and no Jusuf Nurkic — has won the Nuggets three games in a row and has the team just half a game back of stumbling Portland for the last playoff slot in the West. After an ugly start to the season, Denver’s postseason goal is still well within reach.

And if Jokic keeps playing like this they may get it. The second-year big man had 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists as Denver beat Dallas 117-107. He did most of his damage near the basket (9-of-13 shooting within eight feet of the rim) but was 4-of-4 outside the paint, including hitting his only three. He was getting his buckets using his varied game — as the roll man, on the offensive glass, cuts off the ball and more.

It’s not just Jokic on this win streak. Gary Harris had a career-high 24 points Monday. The up-and-down Emmanuel Mudiay was on the upswing again with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup has been a veteran influence the team needed. A lot of things are going right for Denver the last few games — we’ll see if they can sustain it. But the Nuggets are playing an energized brand of basketball in this homestand.

3) Honest Stan Van Gundy is the best Stan Van Gundy. You sick of coach speak? Tired of hearing “I think it was just an off night” or blaming the schedule after a blowout loss? Then we present to you Stan Van Gundy after his Pistons got blown out by the Bulls Monday night.

The Pistons’ had a couple of blowout losses leading into this game, which sparked “players only” meeting where defense and ball movement were stressed. It worked about as well as SVG suggested. The Pistons didn’t do either of those things, and the result was a blowout 113-82 loss to the Bulls (who had lost three in a row before this game). The Pistons are still in the playoff mix in the East and likely will stay there — just four games separate the three seed Celtics from the 12-seed Magic. That’s 10 teams that have playoff dreams, but six spots. There’s a lot of basketball to go, and the Pistons are too talented to not be in the postseason. But they have stumbled since Reggie Jackson‘s return (it’s not all on him), and it’s going to take more than words — from Van Gundy or the players — to right the ship.

Hawks overcome Russell Westbrook’s 46 to beat Thunder 110-108

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul Millsap hit the go-ahead 10-footer with 12.7 seconds left, and the Atlanta Hawks overcame Russell Westbrook‘s 46 points to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-108 on Monday night.

After Millsap’s shot, Thunder center Steven Adams rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Westbrook and dunked it, but a review determined that the basket came just after time expired.

Westbrook, the NBA’s leading scorer with more than 30 points per game, also had 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Dennis Schroder scored 31 points and Millsap added a season-high 30 for the Hawks, who won despite center Dwight Howard missing the game with tightness in his lower back.

Jerami Grant scored a season-high 15 points, and Andre Roberson matched a season high with 14 points for the Thunder.

Westbrook scored 18 points in the second quarter to help the Thunder take a 53-48 lead. The Hawks shot 50 percent in the first half, but without Howard, they were outrebounded 27-14, and the Thunder outscored them 10-0 on second-chance points. Schroder scored 18 points in the first half, and Millsap added 16.

The Hawks closed the third quarter well to take an 81-78 lead into the fourth.


Hawks: F/C Mike Muscala tipped the ball into his own basket while trying to grab a rebound in the first quarter. The basket was credited to Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter. … F Thabo Sefolosha, a former Thunder player, scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot just 27.3 percent in the first quarter. … Made 3 of 19 3-pointers in the first half. … G Victor Oladipo missed his fourth straight game with a bruised right wrist. … Adams’ streak of six straight games with double figures points ended.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Stan Van Gundy, did team meeting help Pistons? “Team meeting, my a**”

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The Chicago Bulls had lost three in a row and were reeling.

Then Monday night the Pistons came to town.

The Pistons had a couple ugly losses themselves leading up to Monday, and that sparked a “players only” meeting before the Chicago game, a meeting where defense and ball movement were stressed. Apparently not stressed enough. The Pistons didn’t do either of those things, and the result was a blowout 113-82 loss to a Bulls team that seemed to find its footing, at least for a night.

Stan Van Gundy went off after the game.

I love it. I’ve been in/you’ve watched so many coach interviews after a game like this where the coach tries to blow off the loss with “we just didn’t have it tonight” or some such talk, but this is what coaches are really thinking at those moments. This was a view inside a coach’s head when he’s being honest.

Van Gundy’s right, players-only meetings rarely lead to a change in behavior by players. Or, you get dramatic swings, like Reggie Jacksons’ decision seemingly pass only and not shoot in the first half Monday.

The Pistons are 12-14 this season, still in the playoff mix in the East, and they have enough talent on the roster that they should make the cut. But talent is only taking a team so far — without some toughness and passion they are going to stall out. They should find that again soon, but this team has been in a funk since Jackson’s return (did they expect him to come in and just carry things?).

Pacers’ Thaddeus Young hits running floater game winner (VIDEO)

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The Wizards had won five-of-six coming in and had been the team making plays in the clutch.

But Monday night it was Thaddeus Young who hit a running floater to give the Pacers a 107-105 win over the Wizards.

Markieff Morris defended the play well. Young got the ball out high, didn’t get to turn the corner cleanly coming to the basket, and Morris was right on him the whole way contesting the shot. But insert your favorite basketball shooter’s cliché here — “good offense beats good defense” or “it’s a make-or-miss league and he made it” — they all apply here. Young made the play.

Paul George had 27 to lead the Pacers in a game between two teams in the thick of a crowded Eastern Conference (going into Monday night two games separated the four and 11 seeds).

Look back at 10 best dunks of last week. Because who doesn’t like dunks.

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This is the week a lot of casual fans start to flip on NBA games — usually on Sunday, on their new 55-inch, 4K, smart TV — but to do that is to have missed a lot of great plays and games already.

Like the top 10 dunks of last week.

Stick around for No. 1, because Larry Nance Jr. may have the Dunk of the year with that one.