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Morning shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook keeps rolling along | No timetable yet on Griffin’s return | Howard says Rockets can win 2016 title | Raptors closing in on team history

No. 1: Westbrook racks up another triple-double — Entering this season, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. After collecting his third straight triple-double last night in a win against the Houston Rockets (21 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), Westbrook has 15 this season alone. That would give anyone reason to brag, but Westbrook remains as humble and driven as ever, something his teammates never fail to notice. Royce Young of ESPN.com has more on Westbrook’s triple-double run and its affect on OKC:

He doesn’t like talking much about himself or the things he has done, making it a point to redirect the conversation toward his teammates or about the big picture of winning the game. It’s what most professional athletes are programmed to do, redistributing praise and letting one’s play speak for itself.

But Westbrook just seems downright uncomfortable any time he gets asked about historical context or some supersized statline. That’s unfortunate, because he’s doing things at a rate that keeps the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter timeline at a steady flow.

For instance: He just put up his 15th triple-double — 21 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets — that put him in the company of one Michael Jordan for the second most in a season in the last 30 years. Magic Johnson had 17 in 1988-89, and with 11 games left, it almost seems probable Westbrook will jump that number with the way he’s stacking them up (six in his last nine games). That’s pretty crazy, right?

Westbrook somehow seems to stat-pad in the most selfless way possible, effectively by consuming as much of the game as he possibly can when he’s on the floor. He doesn’t go after the numbers; the numbers just come to him.

“Yeah, that’s good, man,” Kevin Durant said of Westbrook’s 15 triple-doubles. (An aside: Durant said in a decidedly ho-hum kind of way, which says a lot about how routine Westbrook has made these nights). “One thing about Russell is he doesn’t really play for that stuff. That’s not really important to us. For him, of course it’s cool to have that many triple-doubles, but it’s about winning at the end of the day.”

And here’s the thing: That’s what the Thunder do when he gets them. With Tuesday’s effort, Westbrook and the Thunder made it 15-for-15 — 15 triple-doubles, 15 wins. If the Thunder want to reach the level of the Golden State Warriors, the answer to getting there apparently is pretty simple: Westbrook just has to get a triple-double every game — or at least 73 of them, maybe.

“Nah, man,” Westbrook said, laughing. “Just play, man. Just play my game. The game will tell you what to do. Like I said all season, if it’s scoring, then I’ll score, if it’s rebounding, that’s what it is, passing, whatever it is. The game will tell you what to do, and that’s what I try to do.”

It seems as if there’s something to that, though; 15-0 is hard to ignore. Just statistical happenstance, or is something working in those games?

“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said. “I think just trying to find the right way to play. All those games are big games for us, because we came out with a win.”

The narrative with Westbrook once upon a time was that he shot too much, but it was never out of a ball-hogging selfishness. It was more about survival instinct and a lack of overall trust. But with more well-rounded offensive weapons playing around him now — such as Enes Kanter, namely — he has turned into the league’s best creator.

He has entirely bought in — which is the most important part. There were fears about his coachability under a new regime, moving away from Scott Brooks’ more liberal “Let Russ Be Russ” philosophy into coach Billy Donovan‘s slightly more democratic approach. All Westbrook talks about is winning, and as he has matured appears to understand and believe in the process it takes to do that. For example: The Thunder are 19-1 this season when he shoots 15 or fewer times. They’re 30-12 when he records 10 or more assists. Like the triple-doubles to wins and losses, they’re possibly just arbitrary stats that connect some dots — or maybe the combination to unlock the full potential of the Thunder.

To see Westbrook grow into the kind of player who has gone from one of the most polarizing and debated players in the league to one who now has 12 games of 15 or more assists has been a remarkable evolution. To see a player who has put up 15 triple-doubles with still 11 games to go — well, even Westbrook is shocked by that.

“Never, man. Never,” he said when asked if he ever expected that. “I’m just blessed to be able to play the game I love and have an opportunity to play with such great guys. My teammates do a great job of helping me out and I just go out and try and compete at a high level every night.”


VIDEO: Westbrook talks with Inside the NBA after his monster game

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No. 2: Still no timetable yet for Griffin’s return — The Los Angeles Clippers have done a more than admirable job holding down the fort ever since they lost Blake Griffin. He was originally lost in December to a calf injury and has his absence prolonged after he suffered a broken righ hand in a fight with a team equipment manager in January. The hand injury was supposed to sideline him 4-6 weeks but Griffin is apparently not close to a comeback yet (and must serve a team-imposed four-game suspension before he does play again). Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more on when Griffin might play again:

The latest update on Clippers forward Blake Griffin’s status is that there really is no update.

Griffin remains out recovering from a torn left quadriceps muscle and there is no timetable for his return.

Griffin hasn’t played  since he suffered the injury against the Lakers on Christmas.

But Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the team has been encouraged by Griffin’s progress.

“He’s been working more,” Rivers said. “Looks better. We’re hoping sooner than later. There’s no date, but he does look better.”

Rivers said he was “confident” Griffin would play before the playoffs start around the weekend of April 16.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks after Tuesday’s practice

***

No. 3: Howard says Rockets can win title this season — Inconsistency, lackadaisical defense and a general failure to meet expectations have marked the 2015-16 campaign for the Houston Rockets. Despite all that, they are in the playoff chase in the Western Conference thanks to the play of their two stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. At this point, though, few experts expect Houston to replicate last season’s run to the 2015 West finals, and many less can see it reaching The Finals. Howard, however, sees something else in this team and told USA Today‘s Sam Amick he believes a Finals run isn’t something to rule out for Houston:

With his team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2014-15 still fighting to secure a playoff spot and every aspect of their squad being dissected at every turn, their always-compelling center had a candid chat with USA TODAY Sports about the changing NBA and how big men like him are a dying breed. And while it’s clear that he will strongly consider situations outside of Houston this summer in free agency where he might play a bigger part in the offense, Howard made this much clear in terms of the here and now: he still believes the Rockets can win it all, so long as he can click with All-Star guard James Harden.

Yes, you read that right. Dwight Howard believes the Rockets, who are currently 35-35 and seventh in the West, can be NBA champions this season.

“Regardless of how our season is going so far, regardless of the fact that we haven’t played up to our expectations, I really believe that we have a championship caliber team,” Howard said. “Nobody else has to believe it, and that’s fine. The whole world can be against us. But if those 15 guys in the locker room believe that we can win, then we will win. There’s no doubt about it. We had a great season last year, and the reason why we were able to come in the playoffs and do what we did is because we believed.”

Despite all the obvious challenges relating to how Harden plays the game and how Howard prefers it to be played, and the personality differences that are obvious to anyone who pays attention, the two have done great things before. The question from now until season’s end, of course, is whether or not they can do it again.

“People feel … like we hate each other,” Howard said. “I have no hate in my blood for this man, you know? For what? He came from nothing. We both came from nothing. And we’re doing something that we love. We grew up playing this game for fun, and we had big dreams of making it to the NBA. So I would never hate this man because I know what it took for me to get here, and he made it. So I want him to succeed. I want us to succeed. I just — before coming here — I watched endless hours of YouTube videos on James Harden, before he had the beard. I watched all that stuff, because I’m like, ‘Dang, this boy, he’s got so much talent.’

“I know where he’s at, because I’ve been there, as far as everybody looking at you and they expect so much from you. And you’re one of the best players in the league. All that stuff, I’ve been there ,you know what I’m saying?”

“We both have to figure out how we’re going to make this thing work,” Howard said. “It’s on us. We’ve got the rest of the season, and the playoffs, and we can do it. It’s a mindset. It’s a mentality. And the whole team will fall in line when me and him are on that same page and the team sees that we’re strong together.”

“If we just come together like we’re supposed to – and it takes time, you know. It takes time. If we can just come together like we’re supposed to and like we want to, then I’m telling you, we can win a championship.”

***

No. 4: Raptors closing in on franchise history — The Toronto Raptors have been in the NBA for 21 seasons and have had their share of All-Stars and great moments. One thing they’ve never had? A 50-win season, which is looking like an inevitability with 13 games on the schedule and Toronto parked at 48 wins as tonight’s showdown in Boston nears (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). The Raptors remain focused on finishing as strongly as possible, whether that means 50-plus wins or the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference or something else. Chris O’Leary of The Toronto Star has more on the team’s pursuit of 50 wins and other goals:

Kyle Lowry generally hasn’t been one for milestone moments this season.

Asked what it meant when he scored a franchise record 40 points in a preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lowry immediately said, “Not a damn thing.”

As the Toronto Raptors proceeded to stockpile wins like never before, Lowry has taken the same cool one-game-at-a-time, every-day-is-a-learning-opportunity approach. With his team a win away from clinching its third consecutive playoff berth and two away from a franchise-best 50, the all-star point guard admitted on Monday that, yeah, this group is on the cusp of something special.

“I can’t even hold that (in),” Lowry said after the Raptors’ practice on Tuesday. “I think it matters because this franchise has never gotten 50 wins. We’ve been close the last two years and it’s a big part of the NBA to get 50 wins.

“I can’t even keep a poker face. Getting 50 wins is important to us.”

Lowry’s coach has less of an issue with that poker face.

“Right now I’m thinking (about win No.) 49, let’s get to 49,” Dwane Casey said. “If you do all those things, all the other things will take care of themselves.”

 …

Even while resting bodies, whether it’s by design or by injuries, the Raptors have continued to win. They topped the Milwaukee Bucks on the road last week without DeMar DeRozan and are on a four-game win streak with Jonas Valanciunas (hand) out the last four and James Johnson (plantar fasciitis) missing the last three. Sunday’s win at home over Orlando came with Cory Joseph getting the day off.

“I just want them to compete, that’s all that matters,” Lowry said of the players filling in for those resting or injured right now. “As long as you can be competitive and follow the game plan and make sure we’re out there and just giving effort and competing, that’s all that matters.

“You’re not going to be perfect every night, you’re not going to win every single game but you go out there, compete and do your job and that’s all that matters.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI yesterday, Los Angeles will host NBA All-Star 2018 … Oklahoma City Thunder reserve guard Dion Waiters has been playing some inspired basketball latelyMo Williams was back at practice with the Cleveland Cavaliers and may be able to play Saturday … LeBron James has apparently stopped being the team’s unofficial locker room DJ … The New Orleans Pelicans may end up sitting Ryan Anderson (groin) the final 13 games of the season … Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor had successful surgery on his a torn meniscus in his right knee yesterday … A random guy challenged Nate Robinson to a game of one-on-one while Robinson was taping a TV interview in Israel … 

9 Comments

  1. Klawhi Leonard says:

    Go Spurs!

  2. Beckie Wade says:

    If I were Dwight Howard (or any of James Harden’s teammates for that matter) I would HATE playing alongside “The Beard”! As we’ve seen in montage footage all season long, the man REFUSES to play defense! How can you be considered one of the best in the league when you only play one way? Scoring 28+ a game is irrelevant if you let your man slip by you every time for the easy bucket…

  3. RonL says:

    So, Westbrook is in GOAT form, but Durant gets players of the week… How does that work?

  4. Raptor4Life says:

    Hey Harrie, we Raptors fans miss DeMarre Carrol too !!!
    It seems to be taking forever for him to return from what was described as a minor knee surgery…. and the organization has offered little in the way of “progress reports” regarding his return. At least there is certainly no indication that he is being “rushed back” into play before his body is ready. An outstanding defensive player and a quality guy.

  5. RAPTORS!!!! says:

    RAPTORS!!!!!!!
    BEST TEAM WE’VE EVER HAD!!

  6. I wonder if I am the only Hawks fan who REALLY misses Demarre Carrol. He was my favorite Hawk. I know that trades and free agency decisions are a part of sports. But he brought so much to the court for the Hawks. He may not miss the Hawks, but I will always be his fan. I feel the same way about Lou Williams and Sheldon Mack too. Let’s Go Hawks!!!!!!

  7. Mambaman says:

    Words of wisdom from Mr. Dwight Howard… The big question is… which GM would be willing to add him to their roaster next season?… I can only think of one team… The Harlem Globetrotters …. where acting like a clown is part of the game.

  8. CR says:

    Dwight, you’re fighting just to get into the playoffs. Squeaking into the 7th or 8th doesn’t equal getting a ring. You’ll get trounced 4-1 by whoever you play in the first round.

  9. l0l says:

    Houston is the only team ever who makes the playoffs while not playing any defense, they are the worst defensive team in the NBA, by miles. IDGAF about stats, I’m from Houston and I watch em play.

    We need Tom Thibodeau to coach us and teach us how to defend… let’s start with how to stay defensive before even thinking of defending.


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