Morning Shootaround — March 21

VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20


Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 


No. 2: LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night — Cold symptoms couldn’t slow down LeBron James, not with the Cleveland Cavaliers in need of a lift to secure their playoff spot against the Indiana Pacers. With the Indiana Pacers standing in the way and LeBron under the weather, he had to muster the energy to deliver the Cavaliers to the postseason. And as he has done so many times before, LeBron found a way to get it done. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James was a game time decision entering the contest with a cold, but that didn’t prevent him from being his dominant self. He carried the Cavaliers to the finish line, scoring 13 consecutive points in the final minutes on his way to game-high 29 points. He added seven rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes.

He was also still his feisty, competitive self. Midway in the second Kevin Love was backpedaling on transition defense and did a poor job of contesting a layup. James let Love have it, raising his hands to say that’s what Love should have done. Ironically, James would turn the ball over on their next offensive possession.

Kyrie Irving struggled on both ends of the floor. He was 4-of-16 from the field and he played a part in George Hill going off in the third quarter. Irving played little in the fourth quarter, finishing with 13 points.

Hill scored eight quick points in the first six minutes of the third to spark a 16-2 run. It prompted David Blatt to remove Irving off Hill and JR Smith and Dellavedova were given the assignment.

Hill finished with 24 points and Roy Hibbert included 20 points along with eight boards for Indiana (30-38). But after a CJ Miles 3-pointer gave Indiana a 92-91 lead, the Pacers didn’t score over the final 2:22.

Love put in 11 points and 13 rebounds. Timofey Mozgov had 12 points and eight rebounds.

This was the final time these two will face each other this season unless it’s in the playoffs. The season series goes to 2-2.

What this means

Cleveland clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2010 and has a 2.5-game lead for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings (and the Central Division) after Chicago’s victory over Toronto.

VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan attacks the boards


No. 3: Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase — Timing is everything for Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. So they’ve waited until the final month of the regular season to finally get back on track. Better late than never. More from Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more:

Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan made sure the Clippers continued their upward mobility by helping them defeat the Washington Wizards, 113-99, Friday night at Staples Center.

The win allowed the fifth-seeded Clippers to move to within a half-game of the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the West.

With 12 regular-season games left, the Clippers (45-25) still have an opportunity to get home-court advantage in the playoffs if they keep winning and move up in the standings.

“I just know that if we just win, it’ll take care of itself,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said about where his team stands in the West. “I have no clue. I think we’re all bundled together.

“So it doesn’t matter if I look at them [standings]. If I thought I could stare at them and change their numbers, I would do that. I think the last four or five games, you look at where [you are in the West].”

Paul put the Clippers in a good spot by scoring 30 points, handing out 15 assists, grabbing six rebounds and staying on the attack all game.

Redick had yet another big night for the Clippers, his smooth shooting placing him in the Clippers’ history books. Redick had 26 points on nine-for-15 shooting, making four of seven three-pointers.

He set the Clippers’ single-season record for three-pointers at 164, passing the mark of 161 that Jamal Crawford established last season.

Redick’s three-pointer with 5:19 left gave the Clippers a 13-point cushion that allowed them ride away for their third consecutive win.

“Jamal had mentioned something to me two or three weeks ago, when I was at 130-something,” Redick said of his three-point total. “It’s cool to break Jamal’s record — a good friend and a guy I love playing with.”

The game turned physical for Griffin, the hard fouls coming twice in the third quarter in about a two-minute span.

Griffin had beaten every Wizard down court, but was wrestled down by Paul Pierce, who was called for a flagrant foul 1 after the officials reviewed the play.

Not long after that, Griffin was knocked down hard by Nene, who also was called for a flagrant 1 after the officials reviewed the play.

Griffin made only one of four free throws after the two fouls. Still, he finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Jordan continued to dominate on the backboards, grabbing 23 rebounds to go along with 10 points.

Matt Barnes, who missed the last two games with soreness in his right hamstring, was back starting at small forward for the Clippers. He had eight points and played good defense on Pierce, who made two of 11 shots as the Wizards had their five-game winning streak end.

“We have a great starting lineup,” Rivers said. “I’ve been saying that all year. Our starting lineup all year has been good. And tonight, they were special.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Indiana Pacers will let the rest of the world when Paul George will return to action, whenever that time comes and not a moment sooner … The Golden State Warriors’ passing game is one of the most diabolical weapons in basketball … The Miami Heat’s playoff push continues thanks to Dwyane Wade … The Chicago Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic goes off on the Toronto Raptors … Brooklyn’s Deron Williams insists talk of the Kentucky Wildcats making the Eastern Conference playoff field is “crazy talk”

ICYMI of the Night: Derrick Williams of the Sacramento Kings meets Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo at the rim and it’s not pretty for Biyombo …

VIDEO: Derrick Williams comes up with the Play of the Day

One Comment

  1. harriethehawk says:

    Dwayne Wade is correct when he said the Thunder played desperately; because they are. They haven’t had to battle for a playoff spot in several; years..