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Westbrook's temper part of what makes him great

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Westbrook's temper part of what makes him great

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Make Russell Westbrook mad, and it's anybody's guess what will happen next.

In his rise to stardom in the NBA, Westbrook has shown off an All-Star temper to go with his unique blend of athleticism and determination.

His latest outburst came in anything but a pressure-packed situation Thursday night, when he snapped at teammates and stormed off toward the locker room after a third-quarter turnover with his Oklahoma City Thunder leading by 25.

In his fifth season in the league, the Thunder have come to understand that's just part of the Westbrook package. He plays with a permanent chip on his shoulder, and it's part of what makes him a great player.

Get Westbrook fired up, and he might waste a couple possessions letting off steam with ill-advised shots or unnecessary fouls. Moments later, he's using that rage to ratchet up his defensive intensity and dunk so hard he rattles the backboard. An angry Westbrook can be even better than the ordinary Westbrook, who's already a three-time All-Star.

That's the conundrum that Westbrook presents. When he finished bickering with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, slapped at a chair and headed down the tunnel toward the locker room, fellow All-Star Kevin Durant was never concerned.

``Russell is such an emotional player. I knew he would be back,'' Durant said, ``and I knew he would play well.''

Sure enough, when coach Scott Brooks finally put Westbrook back in to start the fourth quarter, Westbrook made the key plays that put the game away after Memphis had clawed back within 10 during his 8-minute benching.

The only concern for Oklahoma City is whether his tantrums will fracture chemistry at some point and keep the team from winning an NBA championship.

Thabo Sefolosha, the target of Westbrook's rage this time, acted as though ``nothing really happened'' and steered his postgame comments toward the fact that Oklahoma City won and deemphasized the dispute.

``We can count on him every night,'' Sefolosha said. ``He's a big, big part of what we're doing with the team. Regardless of anything, he's a big, big, big part of the team and he's an extremely talented player.''

Durant considered it part of the game - even if you don't see an All-Star abandoning his team on a regular basis.

``Everybody's going to have disagreements in this league,'' Durant said. ``You're dealing with so many different emotions on this team. It's probably our third or fourth one throughout the whole year, and I'd say that's pretty good for us.

``We've just got to continue to keep helping each other, keep talking to each other and we'll be OK,'' Durant added.

In brief comments, Westbrook called it a ``miscommunication'' and said he can control his temper like a man, and that's what he did during the game. He wouldn't talk about why he went as far as leaving the bench.

This was only his latest episode. Sometimes what he thinks is a blown call gets him enraged to the point he gets a technical foul, and then his blood really gets boiling. Sometimes it's the opposite team that gets him going.

Then there's the personality switch from the happy-go-lucky Westbrook who wears eyeglasses with no lenses and crazy shirts and playfully chides his teammates in the locker room into an unstoppable ball of rage.

In a recent road game at Denver, he blocked the mascot's half-court shot during the fourth quarter of a close game. The Pepsi Center crowd then booed every time he touched the ball, with Westbrook soaking it in while leading a Thunder comeback. Then, he only added to it by blocking the mascot's shot a second time.

``That's how he is,'' Durant said. ``You want everybody to be themselves. Russell is doing a great job for us this year. You can't downplay that. He's passing the ball very well, he's communicating very well and as a point guard, that's what you need.''

While Nike put together an ad campaign suggesting Durant - with a squeaky clean reputation - is ``Not Nice,'' Westbrook can stir up hatred and criticism with any perceived misstep: He takes too many shots. He doesn't pass enough. And, of course, his attitude isn't right. Westbrook has absorbed it all while ranking in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring and the top five in assists and steals.

``Russell's an emotional guy. He plays hard,'' Brooks said. ``He plays every night. He plays for his team every night. We can pick apart his game, like a lot of us have in the past. But Russell plays hard every night. I have no problem that guys compete every night the way he competes. If that's becoming a problem, then we're all in this for the wrong reason.''

The Thunder didn't practice Friday and were traveling to Cleveland for their next game on Saturday night. Veteran Nick Collison, the team's longest-tenured player, said he didn't think anything needed to be addressed.

But as he pointed out, the Thunder are counting on Westbrook even more this season. They let locker room leaders Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey depart this offseason, leaving Westbrook and Durant to guide the ship at a relatively young age.

Immediately, they were challenged to keep the team together after Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was traded away at the start of the season in another challenge to the team's chemistry.

``The reason we've been able to keep up and go - we made a big trade earlier in the year - is because of what Russell and what Kevin have done as leaders. They've been great this year,'' Collison said. ``They've grown up a lot, their voice with the team. And they've done it with their play, too. ... Russ in particular has grown up a lot and we're going to be fine. He's had a great year.''

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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