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Ten things I like and don’t like, including high stakes OKC playsplay

Are Russell Westbrook’s triple double stats inflated? (1:25)Tom Haberstroh goes inside the numbers to reveal how Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double. (1:25)10 things I like and don’t like1. Changing the All Star GameIt’s about time. Alley oops and dunks are awesome because they are hard to get. They represent the total outmaneuvering of an entire team of humans trying to prevent them.

Uncontested dunks in exhibitions are still awesome, but the novelty wears off sometime around the 17th alley oop of the first quarter. We can become desensitized to anything. Dunks lose meaning if you don’t have to earn them.

Good on Adam Silver and Chris Paul for realizing the All Star Game lost its way around five years ago. We used to at least get 90 percent effort over the last five minutes. We’d settle for that.

The All Star Game is never going to carry the intensity of a real NBA game. It shouldn’t. These guys play enough already, for both their NBA and national teams, and they shouldn’t risk injury in a SlamBall game squeezed between concerts.

But it should at least resemble basketball for a few minutes. I’m not sure the league could realistically raise the financial rewards to a point that would matter for star players. Donating to one charity of choice for every player on the winning team might do the trick. I liked Tom Ziller’s idea of expanding rosters to 15 or at least 13 so that guys would have to play only 15 or so minutes.

Maybe none of this will work. But I’m for small tweaks to the incentive scale over gimmicks like four point shots and 10 point half court heaves. We don’t need the thing to look even more like a circus.

2. Jusuf Nurkic, dishingWell, would you look who found a little pep in his step? Sparky Nurkic has looked like a completely different player since the Blazers nabbed him plus a first round pick! in another center for center swap. After an enticing rookie season, Nurkic spent most of his time in Denver injured, disengaged, and cranky.

Analysts mostly panned Denver and Philly for trading Nurkic and Nerlens Noel as their value cratered, but there’s a common thread running between those deals: The situations with both guys had deteriorated beyond the point at which they could be salvaged. Nurkic was never going to try this hard fighting for scraps behind Nikola Jokic. You can debate whether that is acceptable from a millionaire player, or if the Nuggets could have done more to motivate Nurkic. You cannot debate the basic reality.

Nurkic has kept Portland on Denver’s tail in the race for No. 8 spot. He gives the Blazers a post up dimension they haven’t had since LaMarcus Aldridge bolted, and he has his head on a swivel patrolling the paint. Opponents have shot just 47 percent around the basket with Nurkic lurking since the trade, a solid number and a massive improvement over what the Bosnian Beast managed in Denver.

He’s mimicking Mason Plumlee’s ability to make plays on the pick and roll when defenses trap Portland’s sharpshooting guards:

Nurkic has assisted on 24 percent of Blazer buckets while he has been on the floor, a mammoth number for a big guy. He gets too cute threading needles, and he’s prone to plowing over dudes; his turnover rate remains ghastly. His weirdo scoops and flips from the post kind of seem like accidents when they go in.

But they’re going in enough. They’re getting destroyed when he rests. Nurkic’s turnaround has been incredible. Adversity will hit at some point, and the whole league is curious how he’ll respond: Is this fool’s gold?

The Blazers have pulled even in the loss column with Denver, and can clinch the tiebreaker with a win in their final matchup. (They can still snatch it even if they lose that game.) Their remaining schedule is easy, and 11 of their final 19 games come at home. This could be a fun race.

3. The Russell Westbrook plus minus tensionThe Thunder outscore opponents by 2.9 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the floor kind of a middling number, actually and collapse into nothingness when he rests. Opponents have blitzed the Thunder by more than 11 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook sitting, a margin that would rank way, way, way below Brooklyn’s league worst overall mark.

That gap creates my favorite tense subplot of every Thunder game: How close can the Thunder hang while Westbrook reloads? There is an urgency for opponents, too: How much can ground can we make up?

We’ve experienced this sensation with other superstars. If the Warriors of the past two seasons won the minutes Stephen Curry rested, their opponents were toast. It still happens with LeBron now.

But Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at least provide the possibility of manufacturing enough points to stay afloat without the King. They are legitimate offensive fulcrums, capable of producing 6 0 mini runs that feel so important in retrospect when we tally the final score.

The Thunder have no such No. 1 option type. They cannot score, at all, without the mad Westbrook dashes that suck panicked defenders into the lane and generate open looks for Oklahoma City’s supporting cast. The Thunder are deeper now with Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a healthy Victor Oladipo, but that hasn’t translated yet to much non Russ punch.

4. Jordan Clarkson, falling behindClarkson is an interesting talent, but to really help the Lakers win to be something other than an empty calories pull up shooter who bleeds points on the other end he has to clean up his defense. At just 6 foot 5, he’s always going to be undersized against wings. He should be able to hang against point guards, but his technique is a mess.

The best defenders move on their toes, with a coiled control constantly in motion, but rarely overextended in any direction. Clarkson just kind of jumps around. He reaches for steals, lunges too late into passing lanes, and slams headlong into flare screens he never sees coming.

He overcommits so badly in falling behind a play that he needs a half second to shift his momentum and trudge back toward the action. You don’t get the luxury of that half second in the NBA.

D’Angelo Russell hasn’t been much better, and the Lakers have to conclude that the Russell Clarkson duo is unplayable in real games. (Four of the seven pairings below them also come from the Lakers. Drive that tank, baby!)

Clarkson is almost 25. The Lakers need another two way wing.

5. Robin Lopez midrange jumpersI’m honestly not sure whether this is a “like” or a “dislike.” A full 27 percent of Lopez’s shots this season have been long 2s. They have never accounted for more than 10 percent of his attempts in any other season, per Basketball Reference. He already has jacked 220 midrange shots, by far a career high; he’s cracked 100 only twice.
botas ugg negras featuring the Thunder without Russell Westbrook