Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (March 6) -- Mark Cuban on Russell Westbrook in MVP talk: 'He's not'

Plus, Glenn Robinson III plays hero in Atlanta, the Cavs prep for a super-deep bench and more

No. 1: Cuban: Westbrook not a part of MVP race — All of the triple-doubles (as well as the relentless energy needed to produce them) will not change the mind of Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks’ owner, never one to shy away from sharing his opinions, has a two-man race for this season’s Kia MVP award and it does not include the Oklahoma City Thunder’s one-man-storm Russell Westbrook. (Yes, it’s the same Westbrook Cuban insisted last year was “not a superstar.”) Tim MacMahon of explains this one:

If nothing else, credit Mavericks owner Mark Cuban with consistency in his evaluation of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook’s historic production this season hasn’t changed Cuban’s stance that the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard falls short of superstar status, an opinion originally stated just before Westbrook went off for 36 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a first-round Game 5 that ended Dallas’ 2015-16 season.

Cuban said Sunday that the MVP battle is a “toss-up” between Houston’s James Harden and Cleveland’s LeBron James, with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard also deserving of mention in the conversation. Where is Westbrook in the mix?

“He’s not,” Cuban said while going through his pregame exercise routine.

Cuban is well aware that Westbrook is on pace to join Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season. Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring (31.7 points per game), ranks third in assists (10.1) and 12th in rebounding (10.7). Cuban acknowledges that Westbrook is “an amazing athlete” who is the “most explosive” player in the league and has the “best motor.”

However, the Thunder (35-27) are on pace to fall short of 50 wins, which Cuban considers the benchmark for a player to be considered a superstar, much less an MVP candidate.

“The criteria hasn’t changed,” Cuban said. With a wry smile, he added: “And if I changed my mind, it would ruin all the fun for you guys.”

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No. 2: Pacers revel in Robinson’s game-winner — Glenn Robinson III’s on a roll these days. First, he won the Slam Dunk Contest title a month ago. Now, he’s serving as a silencer on the road, courtesy of his 3-point shooting exploits in a win over the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at Philips Arena. The Pacers have other, much more established stars — All-Star swingman Paul George and point guard Jeff Teague come to mind — but they couldn’t be happier for young Robinson. His hard work is paying off and Sunday’s shot came with his father in the building. The son and the Pacers will have to see if they can keep the momentum going tonight in Charlotte (8 ET, TNT). Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star has more:

George chest-bumped Robinson. Myles Turner hugged Robinson. Teague high-fived Robinson. The bench emptied to congratulate Robinson. In the stands, Robinson’s father, an NBA champion and two-time All-Star, raised his arms in cheering for his son.

Coach Nate McMillan called a timeout after the Hawks built their six-point lead with 1:43 left. McMillan told his team not to panic, but he instructed them to play at a faster pace to create more possessions. The Pacers (32-30) executed McMillan’s plan and he praised his players for their ability to trust one another.

“We kind of had numbers and just caught them scrambling,” said McMillan, who considered taking a timeout after Teague’s rebound. “I thought we made an unbelievable play. I believe in the basketball gods. As I told the team, when you continue to work hard and play the game the right way, eventually breaks will happen.”

The team reveled in Robinson’s winner.

“Glenn has worked real hard,” George said. “He’s been through a lot this season, from starting lineup to sixth-man role to third string. He’s kind of been all over the place, but I think the greatest thing is he’s kept his confidence. It’s what young guys go through and I’m happy that he has been a professional at his early career. He’s been huge for us these past couple of games.”

On the final play, Miles had to adjust to give the play the proper spacing.

When Teague collected the rebound, Miles sprinted with the intent of going to the corner for a 3-pointer. When he saw Robinson had beat him to the spot, Miles moved to the weak-side wing area behind the arc. Miles’ decision forced Dennis Schroder, Atlanta’s only defender on that side of the court, to choose which of the shooters to defend.

“In my mind I had already locked in it was either going to be a catch-and-shoot or a pass,” Miles said. “I was just happy to be able to get it to Glenn as quick as I could. When I saw he got to take his time, I thought it was good the whole time. When I saw the flight of the ball, I was just ready to scream.”

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No. 3: Clippers still have a rough road ahead — One feel-good win alone won’t do it for the LA Clippers, who finally got off of their post-All-Star Game slide over the weekend in Chicago. They have a lot more work to do if they plan on finishing the regular season anything close to the way they started it. And that road begins with another test tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) against a Boston Celtics team smarting from their tough finish against Phoenix Sunday. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more:

The Clippers had begun the stretch drive of the regular season by losing four of five games coming out of the All-Star break.

Obviously, that was disconcerting for them.

“It’s going to take a lot more,” Chris Paul said Saturday night after scoring 17 points. “This is one win. It was almost a tale of two halves. Obviously, our second half was a lot better than our first half. We’ve got to put complete games together for us to be anywhere close to where we want to be.”

As their uneven play became the norm, the Clippers started to slide in the Western Conference standings.

They are now the fifth seed in the West, 1 1/2 games behind the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz.

“Every game has been a focus, but this was a big one after dropping two in a row, four out of five, or whatever it’s been,” Blake Griffin said. “Now we get to go home and play the Celtics and then go back on the road. But, yeah, everyone is important.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Clippers going forward.

They will play the Boston Celtics on Monday night at Staples Center.

Then the Clippers leave Tuesday for games at Minnesota and Memphis in a back-to-back set Wednesday and Thursday.

“We fly all the way to L.A., play one game and then fly to Minnesota,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s what we’re in. We just have to take it one game at a time.”

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No. 4: Bogut’s arrival completes deepest bench in Cavaliers’ history — All of the pieces are finally in place. Andrew Bogut’s arrival for the Cleveland Cavaliers complete what LeBron James has been asking for all season, the deepest and most talented roster the defending champs could muster for a righteous title defense. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides some details:

When the Cavs are whole, Bogut figures to be Cleveland’s 11th or 12th player in coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation.

It speaks to the stunning depth amassed by the 2016 defending champions since Jan. 1, when general manager David Griffin began to rebuild the bottom of the roster in a way that could dramatically change how the Cavs approach court time in the playoffs from their past two Finals runs.

Lue could legitimately play nine, even 10 players deep into the postseason, when teams usually shrink their rotations to eight, sometimes seven players.

“Oh, for sure,” Lue said last week, when asked if his playoff rotation could reach nine players.

In the 2016 Finals, Lue played seven players more than eight minutes per game. The Warriors used nine, but even then the distribution of minutes needs further explanation.

LeBron James averaged 41.7 minutes in the Finals (he was series MVP). Kyrie Irving was right behind him at 39.0, followed by J.R. Smith (37.3) and Tristan Thompson (32.3). Cleveland’s seventh man, Iman Shumpert, averaged 18.3 minutes. The eight player, Matthew Dellavedova, averaged 7.6 minutes. That’s a major drop-off and speaks to the load carried by the top of the Cavs’ rotation.

The Warriors, meanwhile, had eight players average at least 12 minutes in the series. Draymond Green was the only player for Golden State to average 40, but he was suspended for Game 5 (when many pundits say the series turned for good in Cleveland’s favor).

Obviously, the Cavs road the backs of James and Irving and pulled off the greatest comeback in NBA history, recovering from a 3-1 deficit and winning the Finals with only a handful of players getting the overwhelming majority of the minutes.

In the 2015 Finals, won by the Warriors, Golden State used 10 players at least 10 minutes per game. The Cavs, devastated by injury, used eight players at least 18 minutes. But the difference between the seventh man (minutes wise), Timofey Mozgov (28.3) and eighth man James Jones (18.8) is telling. Also, Irving played only Game 1 in the series and logged 43 minutes.

James logged an absurd 45.7 minutes per game and missed a record 118 shots in the 2015 Finals, but of course became the first player in history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, and assists (he did it again in 2016).

So, should misfortunate strike Cleveland in a playoff series — like it has during the regular season, with Smith and Love missing large portions of the year due to injuries — it would not take a super-hero-like effort from James to necessarily make up for it.

“You never know what can happen and now you always got those guys on the bench that are ready to play,” Lue said. “They are veteran guys that can step up, been in big positions and are capable of making good plays in the playoffs. So, that’s always a luxury to have.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The players certainly were not fans of the no-music first half at Madison Square Garden Sunday … The Houston Rockets’ high-scoring backcourt will provide stern test for the San Antonio Spurs tonight … The Milwaukee Bucks believe the increase in minutes for Thon Maker is time well spent for the young prospect … Chandler Parsons will remain in the starting lineup for the Memphis Grizzlies … Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu, aka “El Jefe,” has rediscovered his jump shot just in time for a late-season playoff push … The men in uniform in Sacramento want no part of the “T” word, no matter how dire the situation looks from outside … Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins finally enjoyed the spoils of victory together as teammates … Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler see things coming together in Chicago over the course of the final 20 games of this season …