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Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Russell Westbrook trying to will Thunder into playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while checking out mashups of NBA team logos with the Larry O’Brien trophy...

1) Russell Westbrook drops 45, trying to will Thunder into playoffs. It’s this simple — Russell Westbrook should be in the conversation when you’re discussing the bottom couple slots of the MVP ballot this season. He missed games at the start of the season, but since his return he has been as good as anyone in the league.

He made his point Wednesday. This home-and-home against the New Orleans Pelicans are not must-wins for the Thunder, but it’s the kind of opportunity that, if blown, would certainly dim OKC’s playoff chances. (They were three games back of Phoenix and two back of New Orleans entering the night.) Then came the news that Kevin Durant couldn’t go Wednesday because of his toe injury. Didn’t matter. Westbrook’s relentless athletic attack went right at the Pelicans from the opening tip — he had 19 points in the first quarter on 8-of-10 shooting. He kept that going all game, including nine points in the fourth quarter to give him 45 for the game and the Thunder the win over the Pelicans on the road. This season Westbrook (once he got healthy) has taken on more of the Oklahoma City offense — he uses 37.6 percent of the team’s possessions when on the court, the highest percentage in the league — and he is scoring 24.9 points a game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night, and on the other end getting 2.3 steals as well. He was too much for the surprisingly weak Pelican’s defense and, if the Thunder can win the rematch Friday, he will have put OKC a lot closer to the playoffs.

2) Once Stephen Curry gets going, all your defensive plans are moot. Dallas likely thought they were going to get the upset on the road when they started the game on a 24-4 run. But like playing baseball in Denver, no lead is safe against the Warriors at Oracle. Golden State’s bench fought back to make it close in the second quarter. Then Stephen Curry started doing Stephen Curry things — he had 26 points in the third quarter on his way to 51 in the game. Golden State got the win, in large part because Curry was hitting heat check shots. This is why Dallas went and got Rajon Rondo, to defend guys like Curry, but on a night like this it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

3) No Dwight Howard means the James Harden show in Houston, and sometimes that’s enough. The question is how far will the current three seed in the West Rockets fall with Howard out for the next month. Wednesday night against Chicago was the kind of game that will be a test for the next month — but they passed this one thanks to James Harden dropping 27 and leading the offense. He looked like an MVP candidate, too, and if you don’t believe me ask Jimmy Butler, who is a superb defender and was made to look awkward by The Beard with this wicked step back.

4) Despite Hassan Whiteside, Miami doing its best to fall out of the playoffs. In the East. Once again Hassan Whiteside was the best thing Miami had going — 24 points on 12-of-13 shooting, plus 20 rebounds, he was a team-best +11 — and yet after the game all you could think was “why didn’t Eric Spoelstra play him even more?” Well, you thought that, and you thought Norris Cole has lost his mind? How do you let this happen with the game on the line?

So Cole, what did happen? (From Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.)

“I’m not really sure,” Cole said when asked what happened. “They didn’t score off it, so it allowed me to rest my mind a little easier. I’m not sure. I’ll have to look at the film. They didn’t score off of it, so it’s not the reason why we lost the game.”

Bottom line, Miami is now the eight seed, behind Charlotte, and only half a game ahead of Brooklyn, 2.5 up on Detroit. Miami is going to battle for its playoff life the rest of this way.

5) It’s just fun to have Ricky Rubio back in the league. Are you not entertained?!?