Shootaround (April 10) -- Russell Westbrook's big night gets Oklahoma City Thunder on track again
Plus, James Harden voices his thoughts on what matters most in MVP chase and more
No. 1: Westbrook’s historic moment gets Thunder back on track — With a pass to Semaj Christon in the corner last night, Russell Westbrook officially notched his 42nd triple-double of 2016-17, setting a single-season mark. With Westbrook’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Denver last night, he got his Oklahoma City Thunder off the mat after a stunning loss to the lottery-bound Phoenix Suns a few nights earlier. Barry Trammel of The Oklahoma details how Westbrook’s fire once again got OKC where it needed to be:
Westbrook knew the stats. He always knows the stats. He knew he needed one more assist for a triple double, and he knew his pass to Christon was No. 10. But Westbrook also knew the score.
Christon’s basket hadn’t even reduced Denver’s lead to single digits. The Thunder still trailed by 10 with 4:16 left in the game.
But a few moments later, when Westbrook most improbably trumped himself with a 36-footer game-winner at the buzzer, capping an 18-4 run that included 15 Westbrook points and that Christon swish, the stoic was gone.
There could be no better way to cap this season-long Questbrook to join Oscar as a triple-double man and break his triple-double record. Because at the core, all those points (50 Sunday!) and all those rebounds (16 Sunday!) and all those assists should be about winning.
Everyone had taken their eye off the ball, which is the scoreboard. The Thunder rediscovered the scoreboard Sunday.
Some 30 seconds after Westbrook’s assist to Christon, during a stoppage in play, Denver public-address announcer Kyle Speller acknowledged Westbrook’s record, with the crowd standing. Westbrook raised a hand to the crowd, but while Speller still was talking, Westbrook darted to the rim and dropped in a layup.
The lesson was profound. Records are great. Winning is better.
There was no basking in the moment, like the other night at home when Westbrook tied the record in a blowout of the Bucks. “No, no,” Westbrook said. “We was losing. I had to get the ball, go back and win the game.”
Later, Westbrook gave his pat answers about triple doubles and Oscar Robertson and history. That talk about being blessed and never dreaming about such milestones and being thankful to the Man Upstairs, who I assume is not Sam Presti, since the Thunder general manager has a ground-floor office.
But when asked about the shot, Westbrook was truly animated.
“It was fun, man,” Westbrook said. “Pure adrenaline. Emotions running high. Game-winning shot. Something you dream about as a little kid to be able to do that on the road, especially from that distance, something you never forget.”
Triple doubles are fabulous. History is to be treasured. Standing with and surpassing Oscar Robertson is incredible.
But winning is even better.
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No. 2: Harden: Wins should be No. 1 in MVP chase — James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the rest of us will have to wait until the NBA Awards Show that airs June 26 on TNT to find out who wins this season’s MVP award. But, that time between now and then doesn’t stop the debate raging over who will claim the hardware. Harden, for his part, thinks team success should play heavily in the final voting tally and said as much after his Houston Rockets won in Sacramento last night. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com has more:
Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said Sunday that wins should matter when it comes to the Most Valuable Player award.
On the season, Harden’s Rockets have 54 victories, good for the third-best record in the tough Western Conference. The other major candidate for the MVP award, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, is leading a team with 46 victories, sixth in the West. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, another candidate, has 61 victories with his team as the No. 2 seed in the West.
“I think that’s the most important thing. I thought winning is what this is about — period,” Harden said after recording his 21st triple-double of the season in the Rockets’ win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. “I’m not going to get in-depth with all that, but I thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, that’s the most important thing.”
Harden addressed the topic a day after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey began a series of tweets that weighed in on the debate.
AAU…All-Star game…Draft Lottery…2017 MVP race. Basketball is losing its focus on winning
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 8, 2017
More context: '62 MVP #1 Bill Russell (60 Wins-20 Losses),#2 Wilt Chamberlain (49 W-31 L), #3 Oscar Robertson (43 W-37 L, avg triple double) https://t.co/2wRKI4JfFT
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 9, 2017
Westbrook set an NBA single-season record for triple-doubles with his 42nd in Sunday’s victory over the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Harden said of Westbrook, whom he’s close friends with. “He’s been playing extremely well all season long, it’s never been done before, it’s a great individual accomplishment, and it’s great.”
Harden is also setting himself up for a special accomplishment. Coming into Sunday’s games, Harden was scoring or assisting on 56.3 points per game. The NBA record for the highest combined single-season average of points and points off assists is 56.8 set by Tiny Archibald in 1972-73.
“It’s just another great individual stat,” Harden said. “But like I said, my job is to go out there and try to get my teammates involved, try to build their confidence so we’re able to go out there and play and everybody is feeling good that’s the most important thing. If none of my teammates are feeling good, I won’t be anything, and we won’t be far as to where we’re trying to go.
“That’s the most important thing. That’s my job every night, and I think for the most part, guys are feeling good. We just got to continue to keep going.”
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No. 3: Dragic: Playoff chase is ‘what we live for’ — The Miami Heat are in the thick of the fight for one of the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots with the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. As the season wanes, the Heat believe they have more than a fighting chance to get one of those seeds and, as Al Diaz of the Miami Herald writes, they’re loving the fact they are even in this position:
But considering the 11-30 depths from which the Heat has risen, merely having a chance to make the playoffs entering the final week is remarkable.
“I constantly mention to these guys, you don’t want any other life in this league than playing for something significant and having that feeling of every single game, where it has meaning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It would be a shame to live in another world like that where the games don’t mean anything.
“What do you want as a pro athlete? You want a life more ordinary? Really? You want to play. These guys in the locker room right now feel alive. You can’t pay enough money to feel like that, regardless of what the results are.”
There are a few scenarios where the Heat — which stands ninth in the East — could make the playoffs, but all require help. The easiest path: Winning the final two at home against Cleveland on Monday and Washington on Wednesday and hoping that Chicago or Indiana loses once.
The seventh-seeded Pacers (40-40) play at the 76ers on Monday and home against Atlanta on Wednesday. Miami owns the tiebreaker against Indiana.
According to Elias, even if the Bulls and Pacers win out, the Heat also would qualify for the playoffs if Miami goes 2-0 and Milwaukee loses to Charlotte and Boston.
“How ever the chips fall after we take care of what we can take of, we can live with,” Heat forward James Johnson said. “But we can’t live with giving somebody else the option of getting us out.”
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, will be motivated on Monday because they’re battling with Atlanta to clinch the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers have indicated they won’t rest veteran players as long as the top seed remains unresolved.
“Having two big games in front of our home crowd … guys wouldn’t want it any other way,” Whiteside said. “It’s felt like playoffs for the last month.”
The Heat cannot clinch a playoff spot on Monday, but it could be eliminated if it loses to the Cavaliers and the Pacers and Bulls win.
But if Miami beats Cleveland, it will ensure that it will go into Wednesday’s finale still in contention for postseason.
“This is what we live for,” guard Goran Dragic said. “The players want to be in this position. You feel alive.
“It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of nights you don’t sleep because you’re so anxious for other results or your games. Some players like this; some players don’t. All the players in this locker room feel the same, that we deserve it and fight to the end.”
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No. 4: Pistons say their farewell to The Palace — Four Finals runs. Three NBA titles. Countless memorable playoff and regular-season wins. The Palace of Auburn Hills has seen that and more in its time and tonight, the doors will close on the stadium for the final time after Wizards-Pistons (8 ET, TNT). Rod Beard of The Detroit News looks back on how the fans made The Palace such a special place:
It wasn’t just the rows of luxury suites or the location in northern Oakland County. It wasn’t the celebrities sitting courtside or the innovative design. Fans have their own special memories of going to The Palace of Auburn Hills, but the players themselves had their own recollections that show a different side of the building that would house three championship teams.
From the back-to-back championship years in 1989-90 and the third in 2004, The Palace has a special place for some of the key players. As the Pistons finish their final games at The Palace and prepare to head to their new home at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, the nostalgia is starting to set in.
“It was very exciting playing (at The Palace). Every time I walked in, I got those pregame jitters, palms get sweaty and it feels like game,” said former center Ben Wallace, who was the backbone of the 2004 “Goin’ to Work” squad. “When I was here, the fans made it easier for us to come in and relax and play basketball and we made it almost impossible to come in here and play.”
“It was difficult for other teams to win because of the fan support,” said Rick Mahorn, a forward on the ’89 championship team and current Pistons radio analyst. “They always embraced us and our hard-working attitude.”
In their inaugural season at The Palace, the Pistons had a 37-4 record in 1988-89 and followed with a 35-6 mark the next year.
“It was the first time we had a home that was ours. Every other team had their own building. This was our own spot, our home, what we protect,” said Isiah Thomas, captain of the “Bad Boys” teams of the 80s and 90s. “Our house became very symbolic for our fans. You don’t win here; you don’t play well here — you just come here to get beat. And that’s what we tried to do.”
Through the three championship seasons and several more trips to the postseason and the conference finals, the players had their own special memories on and off the court. But one of the fresher ones came for Hamilton this season, when his No. 32 jersey was retired and raised to the rafters.
“For me, it’s bigger than basketball. (My kids) never got an opportunity to experience the sellouts here, when we were winning each and every year and the championship and things like that,” Hamilton said. “For me, the biggest reward of all is bringing my kids in this building, seeing what Daddy did each and every day, understanding how Daddy went to work, understanding the fans and Detroit and everything about this city.”
Throughout this final season, the Pistons have brought back several of their luminaries to share their best memories of playing in The Palace and donning the Pistons’ red, white and blue. It’s been a good trip down nostalgia lane, bringing back all the heartfelt emotions in a venue that’s packed plenty in less than 30 years — ancient, compared to the new-school arenas around the league.
For Thomas, the Hall of Famer and franchise’s all-time leading scorer, it’s not just the on-court accomplishments, but also the relationships he built with the staff — from the front office to the ushers and security.
“There’s so many great memories here — and not just basketball memories, but people memories. To me, those are the things that always stick out in terms of the generations of fans that watched us play here and shared memories here,” Thomas said. “We had some great games and some great moments. We’re just closing one chapter and starting another.
“It’s an exciting time going back downtown to Detroit. This place is really special to all of us.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephon Marbury is hoping he can someday return to the NBA as a coach … Breaking down the Atlanta Hawks’ epic comeback win against the Cleveland Cavaliers last night … The Portland Trail Blazers were lavishing thanks upon Russell Westbrook last night … The secret to Joe Johnson’s success with the Utah Jazz this season …