Shootaround (March 17) -- Russell Westbrook inches closer to triple-double history
Plus, John Wall's pointed comments about healthy players resting and much more
No. 1: Westbrook (and Oladipo) dazzles again — Pause for a moment and wrap your mind around it — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has 34 triple-doubles this season. That’s his total after logging a fourth straight triple-double in last night’s road win against the Toronto Raptors that has him knocking on the single-season mark for triple-doubles (41) set by Oscar Robertson. His assault on NBA history has been spectacular and, of late, has been buoyed by the play of his fellow starting guard, Victor Oladipo. Erik Horne of The Oklahoman has more:
From just across halfcourt, Russell Westbrook spiked a bounce pass so precise, it ducked under the knee of Raptors point guard Cory Joseph, running back on defense.
Near the 3-point line, the pass found Victor Oladipo as if magnetized. He cradled it and cruised for a layup. It was emblematic of the Thunder’s 123-102 win Thursday at Air Canada Centre, a night when most everything seemed to go right.
“Honesty, I didn’t even know if he was passing it to me or Taj (Gibson),” Oladipo said after the game. “I was running faster than Taj, so I assumed it was for me. I honestly just looked down — I saw him throw it; I didn’t see how he threw it. I looked down and the ball was just in my hands.”
Lately, things are working that way for Westbrook and Oladipo.
During Oklahoma City’s four-game winning streak, which includes wins against playoff-bound San Antonio, Utah and Toronto, Westbrook is averaging 26.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 15.5 assists. But he’s put up big numbers all season.
Lately, he’s getting strong backcourt support from Oladipo, who’s averaging 21.5 points over the past four games and shooting 56.7 percent from the floor. He’s made 12 of 17 3-pointers in that stretch, unsustainable success from long range. But Oladipo also has attacked the basket. Thursday was the second time in three games that he’s driven for a spectacular dunk.
“I just want him to play aggressive, miss or make,” Westbrook said. “Obviously makes are better. But as long as he’s playing downhill, he’s able to play-make as well. He creates a lot of attention for different teams, and he does a great job of it.”
Oladipo has been great of late, as has the Thunder. His backcourt mate is making that happen.
In four games since a 58-point, 39-shot performance in a loss against Portland, Westbrook has averaged 20.5 shots and the Thunder has scored 115 points per 100 possessions, 10 points higher than its season average.
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No. 2: Wall: NBA gone ‘softer’ by allowing healthy players to rest — Sporting career highs in points, assists, steals and field goal percentage, Washington Wizards star guard John Wall is in the midst of his best NBA season to date. He has also played in 65 of the team’s 67 games and has been a bedrock for the team’s success. To him, the notion of missing games when healthy seems absurd and he made that clear in a conversation with J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic yesterday:
Before having to sit out the last five games last year because of bad knees that would soon require surgery, John Wall missed 13, 16 and 33 games in his first three seasons with the Wizards. To miss a game when 100% healthy? Unacceptable.
“That’s the difference about our league now. It’s kind of gotten a little softer,” Wall told CSNmidatlantic.com, comparing today’s NBA to previous eras. “Guys sit out and rest. I understand the coach made a decision, you can’t go against what the coach said or the doctor said.”
Now he’s faced with missing Friday’s game vs. the Chicago Bulls because of injury. He already has missed two under “rest” precautions set forth by the medical staff after knee surgeries May 5.
“I’m not the type of guy who wants to sit down and rest. I think you owe it to the fans,” Wall said. “They paid money to come see us play. That’s how a professional goes out there and competes. If nothing is hurt, you can play go play.
“I missed games I didn’t want to miss in the past because I was injured. I make up for the time I can make up.”
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No. 3: Cavs’ best players running out of time to play together — The preliminary talks yesterday had a timeline of Kevin Love hoping to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lineup by the weekend. That got fast-forwarded last night as Love suited up for a home win against the Utah Jazz, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds in the win. He’s back, as is J.R. Smith but the Cavs still have one or two lingering injuries that are keeping them from all playing together. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more on the challenges this presents for Cleveland:
In a Cleveland Cavaliers season that already felt like a human Whac-a-Mole game played out over the past five months –- as soon as one player would return another would seemingly go down — Thursday’s 91-83 win over the Utah Jazz was as absurd a night as any.
It started with good news for once, as Kevin Love made a surprise return to the lineup from the arthroscopic surgery to his left knee that caused him to miss the past four weeks. Not only was he getting back on the court two weeks before his original timetable for recovery, but a game or two earlier than his already accelerated return date that had been announced when Cavs general manager David Griffin said this week that Love wouldn’t be back until the team’s upcoming four-game trip.
It was such a sight for sore eyes that the absences of Kyle Korver (sore left foot) and Derrick Williams (right quad contusion) could be overlooked for the night.
This still was positive momentum. This still was the Cavs becoming whole.
What was lost was a chance for the Cavs to have all their best players play together at the same time. That hasn’t happened yet this season, really. And with only 15 games left before the playoffs begin, it’s starting to become disconcerting because Cleveland will also be looking to mix in rest for its stars in that time frame to save their legs for another postseason trek.
Including Thursday night, Cavs players had missed 112 games because of injury this season. According to Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com, a website that tracks NBA injuries, only two teams since Stotts started compiling data in 2005-06 missed more games because of injury in the regular season and went on to win the championship: the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 (171 regular-season games lost) and the Miami Heat in 2006 (170 games lost).
The roster upgrades have been made, from Derrick Williams to Deron Williams, to the Larry Sanders replacement for Andrew Bogut after he was the replacement for Chris Andersen, to the returns of Love and Smith.
While seeing Shumpert and Irving go out felt jarring, both of them are “fine,” according to Lue. Shumpert is day to day and Irving could play as soon as the Cavs’ next game Saturday night at the Clippers.
Maybe the Cavs finally will get healthy after all.
“Right now we’re just having to mix and match and try to figure it out,” Lue said. “With Kyrie and Shump not being serious, Kev working his way back and Korver being close, these last 12-13 games we can finally start figuring out our rotation and who’s going to play, who’s going to play with who. I think that will make things a lot better. I’m just excited about that.”
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No. 4: Embiid getting knee checked out — The Philadelphia 76ers will spend these last few weeks of the 2016-17 season assessing players, gearing up for the Draft and dreaming of what may happen come 2017-18. A big part of those dreams and hopes hinge on the health of center Joel Embiid, who is due to have knee surgery soon. Tom Moore of the Burlington County Times has more on what’s next for the big man:
Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Tiago Splitter were among the topics of conversation at 76ers practice Thursday.
Embiid, who joined the Sixers during their four-game Western Conference trip last week, saw a specialist in Los Angeles and is now in San Diego with Dr. David Martin, the Sixers’ director of performance research and development. They are getting additional opinions on Embiid’s left knee at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which is holding its annual meeting in San Diego that runs through Saturday.
Embiid is expected to need surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, which team president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Feb. 11 called “very minor.” The Sixers said there is no timetable for making a decision.
Embiid will end up playing 31 games in his rookie season after missing his first two years due to a pair of right foot surgeries.
As for Ben Simmons, he was shooting standstill jumpers on a far court late in practice two days after he had been videotaped dunking in Tuesday’s morning shootaround in Oakland, California. Perhaps it was just a light workout day.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Boston Celtics will be without star guard Isaiah Thomas (bone bruise) for two games … The Phoenix Suns have made it a reality — they’re benching standout guard Eric Bledsoe for the rest of the season … Jordan Crawford signed an extension for the rest of this season with the New Orleans Pelicans … A plan to fix what ails the Sacramento Kings … Nerlens Noel gave back to his fans in Philadelphia with a kind, food-related gesture … Kelly Oubre Jr. is determined to find a way back into the Washington Wizards’ rotation …