Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 5): Russell Westbrook in a world of his own

NBA.com Staff

Westbrook still triple-double torrid | Letting Draymond be Draymond? | Pacers’ high means Clippers’ low | Homecoming but no heroics for Hield

No. 1: Westbrook still triple-double torrid — But for two more rebounds against the Lakers on Nov. 22 and a single assist at Sacramento the next night, Russell Westbrook would have an active streak of nine consecutive triple-doubles and the Internet’s hair would be ablaze. As it is, five in a row is plenty to have revved up the praise machine for Oklahoma City’s unstoppable force in the aftermath of his 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in a victory over New Orleans Sunday. Westbrook’s streak is the NBA’s longest since Michael Jordan stacked up seven triple-doubles in a row in 1989 and the reactions afterward from both sides were effusive, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com:

Now 21 games into the season, Westbrook continues to average a triple-double — 31.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists. He is the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1963-64 to accomplish the feat this late into the season.

“I think the worst thing you can do is take him for granted or take what he’s doing for granted,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I would say this: He’s creating a norm for himself, and I think in creating that norm, what you don’t want to do is take it for granted, and I think it speaks to how he can impact a game of basketball.”

Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season; the rest of the NBA has combined for 11. The Thunder are 8-2 in games in which Westbrook records one.

“I don’t think I have any word to describe him, man. [English] is my second language. I don’t think there’s any word to describe his play,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “He’s doing an amazing job. He’s not just making himself better, but he’s making everybody else better around him. That’s what a really special player does. He’s not worrying about his stats; he’s worrying about everybody’s stats. And he’s making sure we’re winning games. He’s just an unbelievable player.”

Sunday’s game marks the third time Westbrook has hauled in more than 15 rebounds in a contest this season. A point guard, Westbrook is ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game this season.

“His determination is second to none in the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I coached him in an All-Star Game, and he plays the same way in an All-Star Game. Everybody’s out there having fun, and he’s as focused as anybody I’ve seen in an All-Star Game.”

“You say, ‘Well, who is he like?’ I don’t know of another player in the league that you could really compare him to,” Gentry said. “I don’t know a lot about baseball, but I would say [averaging a triple-double] is probably a lot like hitting .500 for a month.”

No. 2: Letting Draymond be Draymond? — Draymond Green sounds lately like someone who feels he’s being picked on, given the adjudication of NBA referees on his unorthodox leg kicks and general flailing about on the basketball court. Green’s agents took it up notch Sunday, making it sound as if their client is being persecuted. But Kiki Vandeweghe, the league’s executive VP of operations, tried to put to rest any notion that is getting unfair attention for, y’know, being the No. 1 culprit when it comes to kicking and hitting opponents. Vandeweghe tried to assure Green and his reps that, despite the narcissistic times in which we live, the Golden State Warriors forward isn’t subject to selective prosecution, per the Bay Arena News Group:

Vandeweghe stressed that the rule isn’t confined to Green. He has become the public face of it because of what happened last postseason and his stern public response to its usage against him. But Green isn’t targeted, Vandeweghe said.

There have been seven penalties this season: Green and Amir Johnson were levied flagrants, Jaylen Brown, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Dwight Howard were delivered technicals and Marcus Smart received a flagrant upgrade after the fact.

“Our rules have to be applied evenly for all players,” Vandeweghe said. “Whether you sit on the end of the bench or are a star and play a lot, our rules are for everyone.”

Green’s two connections with Steven Adams in the West Finals — one on a knee to the groin and one on a kick to the groin — sparked a discussion about the sanctions around these type of actions. And the NBA’s competition committee decided this past summer to increase the usage of it.

That committee includes a player representative, a referee representative, current general managers — some of whom have NBA playing experience — and Warriors owner Joe Lacob. Vandeweghe, who often levies the final ruling upon next-day review, also had a 13-year playing career.

“Four members of our competition committee played significant basketball, 10 years-plus,” Vandeweghe said. “Everyone who is on this committee has been around this league a very long time and takes this very seriously.”

The league’s explanations didn’t stop former NBA point guard B.J. Armstrong, now a player agent with the Wasserman Media Group, from rushing to his client’s defense. But Armstrong sounded more like an indulgent Little League parent in some of his comments to USA Today:

“The fact that everyone is trying to cover their positions or justifying why they did what they did, the (league’s perspective) was kind of disappointing from this viewpoint: Since I’ve been a part of this league, I can’t recall when they’ve actually made rules that have actually helped to improve the game of basketball,” Armstrong [said].

“People flail, people do things, and their bodies respond in certain ways,” Armstrong said. “I think it (the play with Harden) is a no-call. … When I played, I would never, ever try to run Reggie Miller off the line because I knew Reggie. If I ran at him, and I was trying to run him off the line, I was going to get kicked. I knew that, and people around the league knew that. And players always adjust.”

Then Armstrong came with this beauty of woe-is-Draymond, woe-is-the-game:

No. 3: Pacers’ high means Clippers’ low — A banged-up, underachieving crew from flyover country somehow managed, for the second time in a week, to beat a breakout contender from the NBA’s superior conference. And vice versa, as far as the contender somehow managing to lose again to that Eastern Conference bunch. The duality of every NBA game – winner’s perspective vs. loser’s – was on full display with Indiana’s success Sunday at Staples Center. Finally healthy, the Pacers were able to deploy all their weapons and tactics, tangible and otherwise, against the Clippers. Meanwhile, the Clippers sagged badly in the third quarter and, along with their fans, are focused on their recent failings rather than anything positive Indiana particularly did. First the view from Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

For 19 games, during a stretch of 39 days, the Pacers wondered, contemplated and dreamed of how talented they could be if every player was ready to go.

Paul George, C.J. Miles and Kevin Serapin returned from the injury report and the Pacers began trying to build rhythm. The game’s first 12 minutes were difficult. The Pacers struggled shooting, didn’t provide much resistance to the Los Angeles Clippers and they trailed by 15 points. Another blowout loss on the road loomed.

Yet the remaining 36 minutes proved to be a demonstration of how capable the Pacers can be. They raised their intensity, scored in transition after forcing turnovers and relied on their superstar to make the game’s biggest basket. The Pacers withstood a late rally from the Clippers and prevailed for a 111-102 victory, just their second win away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers also swept the two-game season series with the Clippers the win.

Their overall record is 10-10, but the Pacers were encouraged by being 1-0 when their roster is intact.

“Most importantly, it was great to have everybody out there contributing,” [Paul] George said. “Everybody played a big part of this win. That’s got to be us. We can’t put the pressure on one guy. We need this to be a collective effort every night.”

Sunday’s box score illustrated the Pacers’ balanced production. Seven players scored 12 points or more points. Thaddues Young led Indiana with 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Rodney Stuckey, who scored 16 points, began the Pacers’ comeback in the second quarter with tough, driving baskets. The Pacers forced the Clippers into 20 turnovers and committed just nine themselves.

Then there was George, who in his first game in nine days, scored 16 points, collected seven rebounds and led the team with five assists.

Then there was the flip side from the coast, courtesy of Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

The Clippers appear to be in their first funk of the season after losing for the fourth time in their last six games, two of the defeats coming against the Pacers in a span of seven days.

There were some improvements over that recent road loss to Indiana, when the Clippers scored only 70 points for their lowest output of the [coach Doc] Rivers era.

Rivers disagreed with the notion that his team was in a rut

“I just feel like we’re losing individual games,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be in a funk with this team, I really don’t. We may drop games here and there, but I think we’re going to win a lot more than we lose. This is a good basketball team, I think a great team, but we have to do that every night.

“I told our guys at halftime, ‘We can’t have bad nights, we’ve got to have hard nights,’ and right now we’re having bad nights. A hard night means that you didn’t play well but you figure out a way to win. A bad night, that means you didn’t figure it out and you lost the game and right now we’re having bad nights.”

No. 4: Homecoming but no heroics for Hield — He was in a familiar place, but the circumstances otherwise were significantly different Sunday for New Orleans Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield. By the end of the night, Hield had shown the crowd in Oklahoma City a few glimpses of the college star they recalled, but not so many that they swung the outcome of their favorite NBA team’s game. The Thunder fans’ trip down memory lane with Hield didn’t turn into a full-blown stumble, according to Justin Verrier of ESPN.com:

The last time Buddy Hield played at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, when he was a senior with the Oklahoma Sooners, he fired up 14 3-pointers with the casualness of clicking the remote control.

Much had changed entering Hield’s return to one of his most familiar stages. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has struggled to adapt his sharpshooting to the NBA game, with just a 23.7 percent success rate from behind the pro 3-point line entering Sunday’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Combine that with a crowded backcourt since the return of Jrue Holiday, and it has led to a steep decline in minutes for Hield, who has seen five stints of less than 10 minutes of playing time over his past 10 games with the New Orleans Pelicans.

But the rookie was a hero in Oklahoma once again on Sunday when he checked in with 1:40 to play in the second quarter, receiving a standing ovation from an apparently Sooners-friendly crowd. He fired up a 3-pointer six seconds later but missed entirely.

“It was crazy,” Hield said of the warm reception. “That’s why I shot the air ball. Man, the people love me out there, but I have so much respect that I have to pay to Oklahoma. This is home to me.”

Hield went on to air-ball it three more times and missed an open Anthony Davis on key fourth-quarter possessions. But the rookie was at least able to strike a balance in his first extended run in three games, connecting on four 3-pointers to tie a career high.

Afterward, Hield didn’t shy away from his struggles, as foreign as they might be in this setting.

“It felt better when I made shots,” joked Hield, who finished with 16 points on 6 for 12 shooting and four rebounds.

But to feel the roar of the crowd — which dissipated some as his play started to hurt the hometown Thunder — seemed to be enough to spur him on amid a trying start to his first NBA season.

“I haven’t felt like that in a long time,” he said. “It’s so great to be back in there and get in rhythm and see the ball go through the net. I’ve been struggling the last couple games, but I feel more confident. I feel like this helped me in the long run, and during the season, [it will] help me be able to boost my teammates.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit’s Reggie Jackson didn’t look rusty with the ball in his hand in his season debut after knee rehab. But he and the rest of the Pistons sputtered defensively in losing at home to Orlando … Keep an eye out for medical updates Monday: Anthony Davis had an X-ray on his sore right foot for New Orleans, while OKC’s Steven Adams sprained his left ankle and sat out the final three quarters Sunday … Boston fans and the team’s coach, Brad Stevens, aren’t quite sure what to make of the Celtics so far this season … Klay Thompson already is getting snickered at by the “cool kids,” thanks to his opinion against the recreational use of marijuana … Thompson’s team, meanwhile, stepped up for families hurt by the weekend’s tragic fire in Oakland

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