NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.
Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:
It started in the pre-game introduction line.
Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.
That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.
Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.
New York was in town on the wrong night.
The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:
He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.
He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.
“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”
Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.
“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”
No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.
And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:
“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”
They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.
He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.
“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”
Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.
No. 3: West recalibrates view of Pacers — David West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.
Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:
“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.
“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”
He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.
As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.
So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?
“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.
“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”
No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:
“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’
The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.
“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”
Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.
“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.