Shootaround (April 5) -- Russell Westbrook makes history in Oklahoma City Thunder's win
Plus, Lance Stephenson makes his presence felt for the Pacers, the Heat eye the playoffs and more
No. 1: Westbrook relishes his triple-double moment — What can be said about Russell Westbrook’s amazing season that hasn’t been already? There’s not much, and Westbrook again left the NBA speechless after collecting his 41st triple-double of 2016-17, tying him with Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for the most ever in a single season. After the Oklahoma City Thunder dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks 110-79, Westbrook paused to reflect on his epic achievement. Royce Young of ESPN.com has more:
In typical Westbrook fashion, he needed only 22 minutes to record the triple-double. He has the second fastest triple-double in history. And of his 41 this season, 13 have come in three quarters or less, while eight have come in less than 30 minutes.
Following Tuesday’s 10th assist, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation and chanted “MVP.” At the first stoppage of play, the referee held the ball to allow for the team’s public address announcer to trumpet the historic moment, as Westbrook acknowledged the crowd with a wave.
“I was in shock, honestly, man. Just kind of sitting there, embracing the moment,” Westbrook said of the stoppage. “I didn’t realize they were stopping it for me until the ref was holding the ball; but just thanking God for the opportunity to play, because I’ve had different [times] where I’ve been hurt and had to sit out, and to be able to play is something I will never take for granted.”
Westbrook also tied Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time list with his 78th career triple-double, placing him tied for fourth behind only Jason Kidd (107), Magic Johnson (138) and Robertson (181).
Kidd, who coaches the Bucks and came within two rebounds per game in 2008 of averaging a triple-double, has a unique appreciation for the numbers Westbrook is producing.
“What he’s done is history,” Kidd said. “There’s only one other guy who’s done it — Oscar. It’s been a long time since that’s happened, so he’s gotta be right there when it comes down to giving [the MVP] out.”
Bucks guard Jason Terry offered his take.
“Oh, he put his stamp on it tonight. He is the MVP. There is no question,” Terry said. “I had [James] Harden all year long, but after witnessing it up close and personal, how can you not give it to a guy who has accomplished such a feat. I mean, he earned it. He really went and took it.”
With five games to go, Westbrook needs 16 assists to complete the season-long triple-double; he has had seven games this season in which he has registered at least 16 assists.
“No, no it wasn’t,” Westbrook said when asked if it was a goal before the season to average a triple-double. “I just play, man, honestly. It definitely wasn’t a goal, just going out and trying to win. Leadership to me was more important than averaging points or field goal percentage or whatever, because I think that’s what gets us the furthest and helps us win a championship.”
Westbrook can break Robertson’s all-time single season record of 41 triple-doubles on Wednesday in Memphis.
“Right now, I’m just embracing this moment, honestly, man,” Westbrook said of breaking the mark. “Moments like this you want to cherish, and it’s something I can tell my new son as he gets older, so I think you’ve just got to cherish moments like this.”
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No. 2: Warriors keep rolling, inch closer to No. 1 in West — To say the Golden State Warriors are in a rhythm right now is to make a gross understatement. After last night’s victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors have racked up a dozen consecutive wins. They’re doing all this without Kevin Durant, who could return by Saturday, and have nearly sewn up the Western Conference’s top seed, too. Anthony Slater of The Mercury News has more:
The Warriors’ 12th straight late-season win was delivered with a similar blueprint to many of their victories from much earlier in the season: Toy around in the first couple quarters — allowing an inferior team to stick around — then blast off in the third quarter and cruise to the finish line.
Tuesday night’s final: Warriors 121, Timberwolves 107, with a bulk of that cushion coming in a 36-26 third quarter.
In that runaway third quarter, Curry delivered the memorable highlights. After a rough first half — when Curry missed eight of his 10 shots — he got himself going offensively in the rarest of ways. Curry jumped a passing lane with 8:14 left in the third quarter, poking an Andrew Wiggins pass into a one-man fastbreak.
As Curry secured the steal, he gazed behind him, didn’t see a defender and loaded up for only his third dunk this season and first at home. Oracle went crazy.
“I took 10 or 12 gather steps on my way to get my feet right,” Curry said, proudly proclaiming “That’s right!!” with a chest thump when asked about the dunk. “I only get like five opportunities a year, so I have to take advantage of it.”
Curry followed that up with a pair of deep 3s — two of only three he made the entire night — then capped a 24-9 run with one of his most eye-popping passes of the season, putting the Warriors up 21 late in the third. Curry pushed a 3-on-2 fastbreak into the frontcourt and veered left, eyeing a fading Klay Thompson in the corner as a backpedalling Ricky Rubio shaded that direction.
When he reached the elbow, Curry changed hands with the dribble in mid-air quickly, before bouncing it one more time and slinging an out-of-nowhere, behind-the-back left-handed seed to Iguodala for the layup. Upon replay review, the move was clearly a double-dribble violation, which should’ve been called by the referees. But the strangeness of it in real-time caught the officials, the crowd and the Timberwolves off-guard.
With the win, the Warriors push one step closer to securing the West’s top seed. They now need a combination of two wins or Spurs losses in the final week-plus to secure homecourt throughout the playoffs.
A few days back, the Warriors looked all but locked into a 1-8 first round matchup with the Blazers. But Portland has dropped two in a row, while the Nuggets have won a couple. Now Denver is tied with Portland in the loss column and only a half-game back overall. Portland does hold the tiebreaker.
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No. 3: Stephenson gets Pacers, Raptors riled up in return — The Indiana Pacers haven’t quite lived up to the high hopes some experts had for them this season. That said, they are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and, after last night’s win against the Toronto Raptors, may be on the rise. That win was sparked by the home debut/return of Lance Stephenson, who had a solid game stats-wise but also caused a stir with his late-game layup with the game in hand …
… and the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Taylor explains how Stephenson’s actions fired up two different squads:
Even after the game’s outcome was decided, its ending was explosive.
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and P.J. Tucker were offended by what they felt was an unnecessary layup by Stephenson, the Pacers’ fiery guard. After Stephenson made his meaningless basket with 3 seconds left, DeRozan and Tucker confronted him, causing a scuffle at midcourt.
“Tasteless, classless,” Tucker said Stephenson’s actions. “There’s nowhere in the league for that. They have a lot of respectable guys. P.G., Al (Jefferson) and Monta (Ellis). There’s a way to win and there’s a way to lose in this league. That ain’t the way to win. That ain’t the way you finish games. I think those guys know that. That dude, he has no class. He has no taste.”
Stephenson said nothing to DeRozan and Tucker after his basket. He seemed to enjoy the fact that he rattled the Raptors with his antics.
“I’ll take fault in passing it to him because I knew he was going to lay it up,” George said of Stephenson. “It’s kind of a basketball cardinal rule. You just hold onto the ball.”
DeRozan received a technical foul for starting the altercation. Stephenson and Tucker each received a technical foul for furthering the skirmish.
“I just want to say sorry to the Raptors,” Stephenson said. “I didn’t mean no harm.”
A fan favorite, Stephenson received a standing ovation from the crowd when he entered the game midway through the first quarter. He scored all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter. Yet Stephenson’s biggest impact on the game was how his infectious passion and tenacity injected more intensity into his teammates.
“He brought a lot of energy to the game, a lot of focus,” Thaddeus Young said of Stephenson. “There was definitely a difference (in the crowd) from Lance coming back. He’s played a great deal of his career here and has gained a lot of respect from the fans. They love him. That’s one of the biggest things in this game. From the start, they welcomed him back and they were ready to cheer.”
When the Pacers needed to respond with urgency Tuesday, coach Nate McMillan watched his team raise its level of play to secure a win it desperately needed.
“You have to go all out and that’s what we’ve been talking about, really, the last month when we had everybody healthy,” McMillan said before the game. “There’s no time to save yourself or pace yourself. We can’t worry about fatigue or even really think about that.”
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No. 4: Dragic: Heat in ‘driver’s seat’ for playoffs — The teams scrapping it out for ownership of that No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference change on a night-to-night basis. The Miami Heat are among that throng and while they sit at No. 9 this morning, point guard Goran Dragic isn’t about to start doubting their chances now. Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald has more:
The pressure to make the postseason is ramping up for the struggling and still Dion Waiters-less Miami Heat, and some experts believe it’s only a matter of time before the Indiana Pacers or Charlotte Hornets move past them for good in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But just because the odds may be stacked against them, Goran Dragic spelled out the Heat’s reality Tuesday after practice.
“We’re not in a hole,” Dragic said. “We’re still in the driver’s seat. We still have destiny in our hands. We just need to take care of business.”
If the Heat (37-40) wins its final five games to close out the season, including Wednesday night’s huge tilt in Charlotte, there aren’t many scenarios where Miami wouldn’t make the playoffs.
Miami owns head-to-head tiebreakers over Indiana and Milwaukee and has a better division record than Atlanta. The only team that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami is Chicago. Where things could complicated are multiple team tiebreakers, but the Heat isn’t worried about that now.
“We need to execute more,” Dragic said. “We feel like when we don’t get a trigger, then we have a problem. We need to get a trigger and then from there we need to move the ball. When we do that I feel like [we’re good]. Last game, J-Rich hit that three, JJ hit that one in the corner. We had some good open shots. But it definitely starts with fourth quarter execution. We need to get back to our identity and try to move the ball. Then we’re going to get open shots.”
More importantly, Dragic said, the Heat has to get back to playing great defense.
“It’s not our identity to give up 115, 114, 113 points,” he said. “That’s not us. I think we need to start games better especially in the first quarter. Spo said we usually get the first quarter and have a lead, but we’ve been allowing 30 points a quarter. When you allow that they get confidence and then it’s tough to stop them. We need to start the games better and of course finish the games too.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley says he’s fine after suffering a cut above his right eye last night … Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd couldn’t help but admire the historic triple-double Russell Westbrook got last night against his squad …The Golden State Warriors plan to give Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala the night off tonight in Phoenix … Taking a moment to appreciate Damian Lillard’s season to date … Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac are thinking they’re going to dominate in the 2017 NBA Summer League …