When Tobias Harris was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA world moved past the shock of the newly established "Big 4" with questions shifting immediately to how they would fit:
How would Harris adjust to no longer being option No. 1, as he often was for the LA Clippers? How would Philly's incorporate No. 4, when they'd already been dealing with "Big 3" issues? Could they actually pull it together in time for the playoffs without aggravating everyone?
Harris, however, is making it all easy. He's been highly efficient -- taking between 12 and 15 shots in each of his first six games before 16 on Monday, sinking a ridiculous 54.5 percent of his shots (37.2 3-point percentage). With Joel Embiid out on Thursday against the Thunder, Harris simply upped the attempts.
Harris shot 11-of-19, sinking 5-of-7 triples, to finish with a game-high 32 points in a 108-104 victory.
That marked the Sixers' first win in Oklahoma City, and also the end of a 19-game slide to the Thunder.
What Harris has proven thus far is that he can be the immediate outlet -- taking the open shots, or creating the space for others to get theirs -- and also the cavalry charging in whenever the moment calls. He's had experience at all these things in a well-traveled early career, and could lock in a monster payday with (more than) a few clutch playoff performances. It's going to be interesting to see what roles teams envision him fitting. This one in Philly might just prove perfect.
Dis/respect for Russ
Meanwhile, on the OKC side, with Paul George out due to shoulder soreness (that was showing in his recent shooting), we got the 2017 usage rate out of Russell Westbrook, who took up 35.6 percent of Thunder possessions, up from 30.5 on the season. And, as he has all season, Westbrook struggled to shoot, knocking down only 8-of-24 overall and 1-of-9 on 3-pointers.
Midway through the third, Ben Simmons officially gave Russ the full sag:
With the missed triple, Simmons did it again on the next possession:
And then again one after that … except – as Westbrook has done all season – he adjusted, creating a clean look for Steven Adams to push one through:
Westbrook eventually tallied 24 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to notch yet another triple-double, making him the first player to hit three straight seasons with at least 25. He nearly brought the Thunder all the way back, though they ultimately dropped their fourth decision in five games.
Consistency issues like these (the Thunder were 11-1 prior to the recent slump) have Oklahoma City feeling a rung below the top tier. But with Paul George producing at Kia MVP levels – Kevin Durant won the award with a similar line back in 2014 – and Westbrook enabling it by ceding just enough of the spotlight, they're likely to be a tough out for whoever ends up on their side of the bracket.
Hey – remember that time James Harden missed 22 straight 3s?
Me neither. Harden finished with 58 points, connecting on 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) behind the arc. His season output is officially expanding the limits of our basketball universe – he's carving out an unprecedented niche as a scoring playmaker, having put up his seventh career 50-point, 10-assist performance. No one else has topped three.
Also of note: Harden's not the only Rocket entering rarified NBA air. With a third-quarter steal, Chris Paul entrenched himself as the fourth player to broach the league's all-time top 10 in both assists and steals, joining Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and John Stockton.
Also also: Dwyane Wade, still got it. And this was a nice moment:
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Not only is @cp3 a legend he’s also my brother. Another great moment to add to this season for me. I’ve always loved competing against this dude because your gonna get his best everytime. This is definitely on the top of my list of things I’ll miss when i retire. #onelastdance #brotherhood #biggerthanbasketball
Pacers stay in the race
The Pacers. Just. Keep. Hanging. Around.
Everyone thought they were cooked when Victor Oladipo went down, but they've pulled together and no one's picked up more scoring slack than Bojan Bogdanovic, who's been averaging 21.2 points per game since.
The fifth-year swingman dropped 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists on the Timberwolves, helping to overcome a 42-17 from Karl-Anthony Towns in a 122-115 victory. He also was apparently ready to take center stage from the jump.
Magic in the air
On a night the Orlando Magic dispelled the Warriors' strengths and took home a 103-96 victory over the defending NBA champions, the good vibes extended to the audience as a family of fans took home a $5K prize in a shooting contest.
M💰NEY IN THE BANK pic.twitter.com/KQ5X6Okwhb— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 1, 2019
Donovan Mitchell, who struggled through the season's first 29 games (20.2 ppg while shooting just 29.0 percent from three and 40.6 percent overall) has resumed wrecking the league. Since December 21, he's averaging 25.8 points, shooting 36.4 percent from three and 43.4 percent overall.
On Thursday, he served notice on the Nuggets' home court. Just as Denver was climbing back into the Western Conference showdown, Mitchell hit three straight buckets to quell the uprising and restore the victor their spoils.
If these teams meet in the playoffs, I would, ah … expect the Denver fans to remember this performance.
Nothing like a little Nets first-round pick throwdown to put a stamp on the evening. Derrick Favors (No. 3, 2012; sent to Utah for Deron Williams et al.) yammed on Mason Plumlee (No. 22, 2013; sent to Portland for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson & Co.)