Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (March 30) -- 'Unbelievable' competitive drive keeps Russell Westbrook trucking

Plus, telltale signs for Carmelo Anthony in New York, big praise for Malcolm Brogdon and more Staff

No. 1: Westbrook works magic on Magic — How does one man bring his team back from 22 points down in the second quarter and out of a 14-point hole with just over six minutes left in regulation time? Well, you start by ringing up the highest-scoring triple-double in NBA history. But in clinching a playoff berth for the Thunder, Russell Westbrook also told Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman he just wants it more than everybody else:

“You just got to want it more than other people,” Westbrook said after the game. “I think for me, every night I don’t think about getting tired. I just go out and keep going, keep going.”

In that final six-plus minutes of regulation against the Magic, Westbrook scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, pacing the Thunder to a 23-9 surge to tie the game.

It was Westbrook who tied the game. Of course it was.

He did it on a 31-foot 3-pointer that knotted the score at 102-102. It came with 7.1 seconds to play, just as his game-winning shot in Dallas had two nights before.

“He never believes that he’s ever out of it or we’re ever out of it, and he plays with an incredible competitive spirit,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He just plays with unbelievable spirit all the time. He’s got a huge heart, he’s a huge competitor and he finds ways to make things happen.”

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No. 2: Warriors feeling good about themselves again — The good news for the Warriors is that they’re back leading the NBA parade after their stunning climb out of a huge hole in San Antonio. The bad news for the rest of the NBA is that they have now won nine in a row and could be getting Kevin Durant back in the lineup soon. Our Shaun Powell says the Warriors are brimming with confidence at the right time:

So, to recap: Warriors load up by beating the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the West for their ninth straight win, and get an encouraging update both medically and visually regarding Durant, who’ll be re-checked in a week and is expected to play the season’s final two or three games. Meanwhile: The rest of the league just took a deep breath.

“Our guys are tough, confident and pretty good,” said Kerr.

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No. 3: Writing on Knicks’ wall not pretty — Once upon a time, the Knicks were a “super team” in waiting. Once upon a time, they were full of hope and optimism. That was back in training camp. Now after being eliminated from playoff contention for a fourth straight season following a miserable home loss to the Heat, star forward Carmelo Anthony senses the end is near for him in New York, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I see the writing on the wall,’’ Anthony said. “I see what they’re trying to do. It’s me accepting that. I think that’s what puts me at peace: Me knowing and understanding how things work. ’’

It was the first time Anthony was held scoreless in the first half of a game this season and the first time since 2012, in games he’s played at least five minutes.

In Detroit earlier this month, Anthony took just nine shots, and said afterward his selectiveness was a function of the reemphasized triangle.

Anthony has a no-trade clause but keeps giving hints he’s close to waiving it.

In a loaded response, Anthony said about his new role, “It’s difficult. It’s hard to change a player’s game in the ninth inning. I am who I am. I got here all these years playing the way I’ve been playing. It’s hard to take that step back. It’s challenging. I think it’s for the greater good of everybody on this team.”

But later when asked again about his two-shot, scoreless half, Anthony said, “It doesn’t do me any good, doesn’t do the team any good.’’

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No. 4: Nurkic gives Blazers hope and a chance — Back in the middle of the season, the Blazers’ chances of getting back to the playoffs were hovering between slim and none. But that’s before they pulled the trigger on the deal that put Jusuf Nurkic in the middle of the lineup and began their climb back toward the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. John Gonzalez of The Ringer tells the tale:

As recently as mid-February, that’s exactly what appeared would happen. The Blazers’ playoff aspirations looked so grim back then that they might as well have changed the name to RIP City. (At the time, FiveThirtyEight ballparked their chances to make the playoffs at 19 percent.) That’s when the Blazers made a move, one that’s obvious in its importance now but seemed less significant at the time. When Portland traded Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic, he had fallen so far out of favor in Denver that the Nuggets included a first-round pick to make the deal happen. No reasonable person could have predicted that Nurkic would then transform himself into a stat-sheet stuffer and a catalyst for the Blazers’ postseason push.

“For whatever reason, our system didn’t work for him,” Nelson said. “I don’t know if it was him or our system, but somehow, some way, it didn’t work.”

Nelson said he was happy for Nurkic, and he added that the trade has “worked out well for both teams.” That’s true to an extent. But especially after Tuesday evening, it looks a bit better for one side than the other.

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No. 5: Rookie Brogdon ‘not a rookie’ in many eyes — When you’re making your picks for Rookie of the Year and are stuck trying to determine if Joel Embiid’s 31 games are enough played to earn him the award, don’t forget Malcolm Brogdon of Milwaukee. The point guard made all of the key plays down the stretch, including the game-clinching bucket to seal the Bucks’ win at Boston, and as the Greek Freak told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it’s not surprising anymore:

“As I said in the beginning of the year, he’s not a rookie in my eyes,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “He’s so mature; he’s always calm. He’s going to keep getting better, but we need him to do those plays down the stretch.”

Suddenly Bucks opponents have to worry about Brogdon creating at the end of games, just as they are focusing on Antetokounmpo and Middleton.

“He was great on both ends,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “He made plays, found guys, came up with some big shots. It just showed his composure throughout that stretch in the fourth.

“It shows the trust his teammates and coaches have to let him have the ball in his hands instead of Khris or Giannis.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who recruited Brogdon when Stevens was coaching at Butler, was not surprised at the way the Bucks rookie played.

“He’s not a rookie. He’s not a rookie,” Stevens said. “And I say that with complete respect to him. Like that guy; he knows how to play.

“He was a tremendous college player who was an ultimate winner, and he has just picked up right where he left off.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook was so impressive against the Magic that even Orlando fans chanted: “MVP! MVP!”…Steve Kerr says he wouldn’t make a very good team owner…The Spurs’ 20 straight playoff seasons is now the longest active streak in North American pro sports…Luke Walton says the Lakers and NBA need to sit down and talk about the schedule… Reggie Evans is still trying to find his way back to the NBA…Victor Oladipo got a warm welcome back to his first pro home in Orlando.