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About Last Night: Thunder stars shine in comeback

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Much like a pair of superheroes teaming up to wreak havoc on their foes, Russell Westbrook and Paul George proved unstoppable in the face of a seemingly insurmountable deficit Wednesday at Barclays Center. 

Just how bleak was the Thunder’s situation against the Nets? 

Down 23 midway through the third quarter and as many as 20 in the fourth, they were given less than a 1 percent chance of rallying for victory by ESPN’s Game Probability model. 

But much like Brooklyn’s defense, those odds meant nothing to the Thunder — and more specifically, Westbrook and George. 

Westbrook continued his march up the career triple-double chart, passing Jason Kidd for third with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists. It was triple-double No. 108 for Westbrook, marking only the 34th time in NBA history that a player has totaled at least 20, 15 and 15 in those categories.

George’s 47 points and 15 rebounds weren’t as rare, but might have been even more impressive. More than half his scoring output (25) came over the final 7:11, including the go-ahead 3-pointer — off a Westbrook assist, naturally — with 3.1 seconds left.

Per ESPN Stats, George had previously been 0-for-14 in his career on go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds. But having watched George torch his team throughout the fourth, Nets reserve Jared Dudley knew it was down before it left his hand. 

Westbrook then essentially killed the Nets’ final possession with a deflection that left them just 0.1 second to attempt the last shot, completing a remarkable 114-112 triumph for the Thunder. It was a fitting piece of dirty work by Westbrook, who took only two shots while dishing out five assists in the fourth as he gave George plenty of space to sizzle.  

Driven by their two superstars, the Thunder outscored the Nets 39-19 in the final period to register the largest comeback since the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2009. Of more immediate concern, it was also their 16th win in 19 outings following an 0-4 start. 

“This was a special night,” said George, who missed his career scoring high by one point. “We came together when our backs were against the wall and we showed who we are.”

 

Paul George erupted for 47 points, including 25 in the fourth to outscore the Nets by himself.

 

Night of greatness

OKC’s dynamic duo highlighted a score of monster performances: 

* LeBron James scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth, leading the Lakers past the Spurs 121-113. 

* Stephen Curry lit up the Cavaliers for 42 points, including 25 in the first half. 

* Jimmy Butler outscored Kawhi Leonard 38-36, but Leonard got the last laugh with a 113-102 victory

* Bradley Beal picked up the slack for the absent John Well with 36 points and nine assists against the Hawks. 

* Karl-Anthony Towns overpowered the Hornets for 35 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. 

And that’s just scraping the surface. Check out NBA.com/stats for a complete rundown on Wednesday’s top performers. 

 

End of an era

Four straight Finals matchups etched the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry among the best in NBA history. 

”It was historical,” said Curry, whose team claimed three of those four Finals battles, including the final two. ”I’ll definitely sit back on the couch in 10 or 12 years when it’s all over and think about what it was like to play (in Cleveland), and how high the stakes were every time we came into this building.”

But with LeBron James having departed for L.A. over the offseason, there were no stakes to speak of as the Warriors visited Quicken Loans Arena outside another date on the 82-game schedule.

And the defending champions played like it during the first half, trailing by six at the break despite Stephen Curry’s 25 points. 

But as they’re wont to do, the Warriors awoke with devastating results. Curry added 17 more in the second, and Kevin Durant hit a flurry of 3s en route to 25 points for the game as the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 30 over the final 24 minutes.

Despite the impressive finish, the Warriors couldn’t help but look back at the way things were.  

”It’s not a rivalry, it’s another game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said wistfully. ”Part of me is a little nostalgic for that.”

 

Stephen Curry leads the Warriors to victory with 42 points.

 

Welcome back

Plagued by injuries in recent years and jobless after being waived by the Knicks in October, former All-Star Joakim Noah wasn’t sure if he would ever play in the NBA again. 

That moment finally came with the Grizzlies in their 96-86 win over the Clippers, more than 11 months after his most recent outing in January. Noah scored only four points in 13 minutes, a far cry from his peak. But at this point, after seeing his career flash before his eyes, he’s just glad to be back on the court in any capacity he can. 

“I’m really happy,” an emotional Noah said. “I don’t expect anything anymore. I’ve been in this league for a while now. Sometimes you take it for granted because there are so many games. Then you (can’t play), it just feels good to be here in a locker room after a win, and feel that energy.”

 

Quote of the Night

“Have you watched LeBron play before?” — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, asked what makes James so difficult to guard.

 

Living it up

No one can accuse Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry of not enjoying his job. 

 

 

 



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Push for playoffs more than just talk for LeBron, Lakers

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“Stranger things have happened, but it would be weird to have the playoffs and not have him in the playoffs,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “Like, weird.”

The LA Clippers, currently the No. 8 seed, have dwindling motivation and ability to make the playoffs. They traded their best player (Tobias Harris) earlier this month to create cap room for a summer free-agent run. If they make the playoffs, their No. 1 pick goes to the Celtics. If they fall into the lottery, they keep it.

More realistically, this is about the Lakers competing down the stretch against the energized and hungry Sacramento Kings. They haven’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons and don’t have a No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. The Lakers are also fighting the proud San Antonio Spurs, who haven’t missed the playoffs since coach Gregg Popovich’s first season.

 

In the stretch run, several key storylines will stand out.

Following their Christmas Day win in Oakland, the Lakers were No. 4 in the West. But the season was thrown for a loop with LeBron’s groin injury-induced absence and other Lakers injuries and suspensions. The Lakers still aren’t at full strength until Lonzo Ball recovers from his ankle sprain. That should come soon, although he has yet to practice.

LeBron has made a habit of carrying lesser teams to the playoffs and beyond, although he did that in the East without missing many games. This is another, different hill to climb.

“I’m looking forward to the second half of the season, looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back into this playoff race,” James said after the All-Star Game. “That’s my mindset. That’s the only thing that’s going to happen in my mental space for these next two months, pretty much how I can get this team playing the type of level of basketball we were playing before my injury.”

Before the season went sideways, the Lakers were indeed intriguing. LeBron defied age once again and put up Kia MVP-like numbers, including a reliable touch on 3-pointers. JaVale McGee was a pleasantly surprising source of offense, Rajon Rondo was efficiently steady and the young core of Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma had their moments.

At the All-Star break, LeBron and Rondo had just returned, Ball was hurt, McGee was the No. 2 center (behind the now-departed Ivica Zubac), Ingram was an enigma and Kuzma was rising as a solid No. 2 scorer. And of course, the Davis drama weighed on the locker room.

“All I know,” Kuzma said, “is when we were healthy, we won. We were fine. The goal is to get back to that. Let’s get a healthy team and then we’ll see. I’m confident in what we can do.”

 

Which West teams could cause Golden State trouble in the playoffs?

This was always designated as an exploratory season for the Lakers with LeBron. Entering the season, they had young players without playoff experience. They had veterans on one-year contracts serving as bridge-gap players so the Lakers can keep their salary cap flexible for 2019. In a sense, there was never any false hopes by management of making the Warriors sweat.

But making the playoffs? That was expected.

> The West:  Who can contend with Warriors?

“It was our goal at the beginning of the season and still our goal,” LeBron said.

If they do, the Lakers might make it interesting in the first round if they see, for example, the inexperienced Denver Nuggets (or any other non-Warriors team).

If they don’t, then it’s an embarrassment for the Lakers and setback for LeBron. It will fuel the perception that he needs tons of help to win anything of significance in the more competitive West (although plenty of player movement this summer could shift the landscape drastically).

With the trade deadline passed and Davis still in New Orleans, LeBron must make do with what he has. And to hear him, he has plenty.

“I’m all about being uncomfortable,” James said. “I like being uncomfortable, I enjoy being counted out. Look, we gotta win games. … Go out there and do your job. Control what you can control and what you can’t control don’t worry about.”

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 



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Legends profile: Chet Walker | NBA.com

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Chet Walker always seemed to find himself in a behind-the-scenes role. As the “other guy” on an NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers team that starred Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, Walker rarely, if ever, received top billing. But whether he was battling an opposing forward one-on-one or going head-to-head with show-business types, Walker more often than not came out on top

During his 13-year NBA career with the Sixers and the Chicago Bulls in the 1960s and ’70s, Walker amassed 18,831 points and earned seven All-Star Team selections. Only twice did his scoring average dip below 15 — a noteworthy achievement given that offensive opportunities in Philadelphia were rationed among future Hall of Famers Chamberlain, Greer and Billy Cunningham. And in Chicago, they were shared with the formidable Bob Love.

Chet “The Jet” was among the best open-court forwards of his day. He particularly enjoyed drawing fouls. Walker played tenacious defense and proved remarkably durable. He never missed more than six games in any season, and became one of the few players to appear in more than 1,000 games (1,032) for his career.

Walker’s teams made the playoffs every year, and he had identical career scoring averages of 18.2 points in both the regular season and the postseason. His impact was most evident in Chicago, where the Bulls reached the playoffs in each of Walker’s six seasons but not in the year before he arrived or the year after he left.

When he turned in his duffel bag for a briefcase in 1975, Walker discovered that he could have an impact in the entertainment business as well, even without the benefit of training. He went on to produce a number of television and feature films, and he even picked up an Emmy Award for his role in co-producing “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story,” a made-for-TV movie portraying the life and travails of Isiah Thomas’ mother.

Like Isiah Thomas, Walker grew up in poverty. Born in 1940, he and his family lived in a housing project in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Also like Thomas, Walker battled adversity and won a basketball scholarship. He went on to become an All-America forward at Bradley University in neighboring Illinois. In three varsity seasons, he averaged 24.4 points and 12.8 rebounds and shot .552 from the floor.

The NBA’s Syracuse Nationals, in desperate need of frontcourt scoring and rebounding support, made Walker the 12th overall pick in the 1962 NBA Draft. Walker averaged 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 1962-63 and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Team.

Prior to the 1963-64 season, the franchise moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers. Walker began to emerge that year, averaging 17.3 points and a career-high 10.3 rebounds and making his first appearance in the NBA All-Star Game. The Sixers, however, struggled to a 34-46 record and an early exit from the playoffs.

The team’s fortunes began to change in 1964-65 with the midseason acquisition of Chamberlain from the San Francisco Warriors. Chamberlain was no stranger to the City of Brotherly Love — he had been born there and had started his NBA career with the Warriors when they were based in Philadelphia.

After the arrival of Billy Cunningham in 1965, the 76ers boasted one of the greatest frontcourts ever assembled. In 1966-67, their second year of playing together, the trio of Chamberlain, Cunningham and Walker powered Philadelphia to a 68-13 record and the NBA title. Walker, although often yielding to his frontcourt ‘mates and Greer in the backcourt, posted his finest season with the organization, tallying 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. He also averaged 21.7 points in the playoffs. The team was considered by many to be the greatest in NBA history.

Walker put in two more solid seasons with the Sixers after that championship year, but Philadelphia didn’t return to the Finals. Prior to the 1969-70 campaign, Walker was traded to a sputtering Chicago Bulls club along with backup forward Shaler Halimon for Jim Washington and a player to be named later. The move was a jolt to the 29-year-old Walker, who had made a home for himself in Philadelphia. He even considered retirement. Luckily for the Bulls, he didn’t follow through on the notion.

Over the next six seasons with Chicago, Walker scored at least 19 points every year and played in four more All-Star Games. He helped carry a team that also included Bob Love, Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan to four straight 50-win campaigns. In a 1971-72 tilt against the Cincinnati Royals, Walker tallied a career-high 56 points. He finished that year with a career-best scoring average of 22.0 points.

Walker’s six-year honeymoon in Chicago ended in ’75 when management rejected his $200,000 salary demand. They also refused to trade or release him. So Walker went to court, suing the Bulls and the NBA for violation of federal antitrust laws. Walker lost the case. At age 35, coming off a season in which he averaged 19.2 points despite tendinitis-wracked knees, an embittered Walker was through. As for the Bulls, their win total plummeted by half in 1975-76, to 24 games.

Over the years, Walker had kept in touch with his buddy Zev Braun, a Beverly Hills movie producer. After losing his court case, Walker moved to Tinseltown, hooked up with Braun, and embarked on a new career. The transition was not easy, as he told HOOP Magazine in 1985: “The adjustment was very difficult. I’ve been out eight years and I’m just now beginning to relax in life. You have to learn there’s more to life than basketball.”

Working with Braun and other producers, Walker ushered through a number of projects. Among them were “Freedom Road,” a 1980 NBC miniseries starring Kris Kristofferson and Muhammad Ali; the 1983 film The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, the late Peter Sellers’s final picture; “Holy Angels,” an NBC movie of the week and the 1995 film The Glass Shield.

It was “The Mary Thomas Story” in 1989, however, that gave Walker the most personal satisfaction. “I saw Isiah’s struggle growing up on the west side of Chicago. I found it very frustrating,” he told HOOP. “The story of Isiah’s mother is so similar to my own life.”

The film, shot on location in the Thomas family’s neighborhood, portrayed Mary Thomas’ struggles to raise her nine children without her husband, who had left home when Isiah was 3 years old. On one occasion, she warded off a gang of hoods with a shotgun. “There’s only one gang here, and I lead it,” she warned the youths, who had come looking for Isiah. “Get off my porch or I’ll blow you off it!”

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Reports: Bucks’ Nikola Mirotic hopes to play Wednesday vs. Celtics

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Newly acquired Bucks forward Nikola Mirotic, nursing a calf injury, could be making his Milwaukee debut Wednesday night vs. the Boston Celtics, according to Twitter reports.

The Bucks, currently the top team in the Eastern Conference, acquired Mirotic in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans at the Feb. 7 trade deadline.  Milwaukee gave up Jason Smith and Stanley Johnson and four second-round picks.

Mirotic has played in 32 games this season for the Pelicans, and has been productive, averaging career highs in points (16.7) and rebounds (8.3) per game, and is close to his highs in steals and blocks. He’s missed four Bucks’ games since the trade, but appears ready to play now with an initial minutes restriction.

At 43-14 entering the All-Star break, the Bucks hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and the league.

A career 39.5 percent shooter from beyound the arc, Mirotic could help the Bucks stretch the floor, opening up driving lanes for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 



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