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Wednesday NBA Roundup: Chris Paul Rains on Russell Westbrook's MVP Parade

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2015

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Chris Paul hasn't been a big part of the MVP conversation this season, but after he and the Los Angeles Clippers stymied a seemingly unstoppable Russell Westbrook on Wednesday, that discussion may have to change.

The Clippers gave Westbrook their patented "Stephen Curry Treatment" in a 120-108 road victory, trapping, doubling and generally hounding the Thunder's red-hot stat-stuffing superstar whenever he crossed half court.

The strategy made perfect sense. When one guy's been completely dominating games for weeks on end like Westbrook has, limiting his participation and daring others to pick up the slack is the way to go. OKC's supporting cast wasn't up to the task.

For his part, Westbrook still got his numbers and "only he does things like that" highlights.

Russ scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out seven assists in 36 minutes. But a good chunk of his production came in the fourth quarter after the result was decided, and he rarely got the chance to explode in the open court like he wanted to.

Thanks to L.A.'s explicit focus on him in the half court, he struggled there too. His 10 turnovers landed him in rare company this season, per ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Russell Westbrook joins Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, and Stephen Curry as the only players with 10 turnovers in a game this season.

Not only that, but Paul, who, according to a recent study presented at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, is by far the best perimeter defender in the NBA, also had a whole lot to do with Westbrook's ball-security issues, a sentiment echoed by ESPN Stat's & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Russell Westbrook has a career-high 10 turnovers. 7 of his 10 turnovers have come with Chris Paul as his primary defender.

On the other end, Paul wore Westbrook out with unusually aggressive offensive play. CP3 scored a season-high 20 points in the first half, finishing with 33 on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with nine assists and four rebounds.

It was a reminder that Paul's skills at controlling a game are sometimes more useful than Westbrook's preferred plan of attack: beating the thing into submission.

Led by Paul, L.A.'s league-best offense fueled its defense. Because the Clippers were so effective scoring the ball (they nailed 15 of their 30 three-point attempts), they had the luxury of setting up their schemes on most possessions. That was key, as Westbrook got precious few opportunities to do damage in scattered situations.

In fact, Oklahoma City's insistence on intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan, who converted 12 of his 22 attempts from the charity stripe, only helped the Clips get set on D.

There will be nights when ploys such as the one Los Angeles used won't work against Westbrook. He's that physically dominant, and he's no stranger to being the sole focus of a defensive game plan. For what it's worth, I'm not sure we should believe Doc Rivers' postgame assessment, via Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

Doc Rivers on Russell Westbrook's night: "He's human, I guess."

All the same, it's now clear that because the Thunder have never been much for offensive variety, and because they rarely make shrewd in-game adjustments, opponents will double down on stopping Russ and daring head coach Scott Brooks and the supporting cast to figure something else out.

On Wednesday, the Thunder's failure to find an alternative resulted in a drop back to the No. 9 spot in the West.

Fortunately for OKC, Westbrook may not have to play as a solo act much longer. Before Wednesday's game, Brooks told reporters, via The Associated Press, that Durant's return to the lineup could come in "a week to two weeks."

Westbrook's run has been ridiculously fun, but maybe Wednesday's loss was a sign that it couldn't and shouldn't go on forever.

Around the Association

The Hornets Are Generous

Kemba Walker returned to the floor for the first time since going down with a torn meniscus on Jan. 23, and the Charlotte Hornets celebrated his return by giving away a 113-106 decision to the visiting Sacramento Kings.

Lance Stephenson, who'd love to wake up from his nightmare of a season, was a particularly generous culprit, per Grantland's Zach Lowe:

Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA

Can't happen: 88-84 Kings, Lance misses 3, stands there watching, guy leaks out, dunks, Lance touch foul, Lance tech, 92-84 Kings.

The giving theme continued, as Charlotte, the league's best defense since Jan. 1, according to NBA.com, surrendered a combined 53 points to Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore. DeMarcus Cousins contributed 20 points and 14 boards, complete with a nasty highlight finish of an Andre Miller lob.

All that generosity cost the Hornets critical ground in the East playoff race, dropping them a half-game behind the Miami Heat for the No. 8 spot. In order to stay relevant down the stretch, they'll need to work on being a little more selfish.

The Sixers Have Mastered the Element of Surprise

The Chicago Bulls coughed up a 14-point fourth-quarter advantage before dispatching the mostly anonymous Philadelphia 76ers in a 104-95 overtime win, but the contest may have revealed that Philly's unknown and ever-changing roster is all part of a larger plan.

Sam Smith of Bulls.com picked up on it as the Sixers were making their late run:

Sam Smith @SamSmithHoops

76ers on 15-0 run to take 80-79 lead; everyone knows Philly is tough to play as there are no scouting reports for their players

Genius. That must be it.

Of course, the Bulls and everyone else should be familiar with Nerlens Noel—mostly because of plays such as this:

Chicago was lucky to pull this one out, and it needed a desperate (and pretty lucky) three from Aaron Brooks with under a minute left to force overtime against a Sixers team that gave maximum effort throughout.

The individuals on Philly's roster may not be widely known, but Sixers head coach Brett Brown has created a team-wide identity the rest of the league is starting to recognize: Philadelphia doesn't quit.

The Grizzlies Lost and Won

Mike Conley couldn't connect on a potential game-tying three at the buzzer in the Memphis Grizzlies' 95-92 loss to the Boston Celtics.

The fact that he was on the floor to take it was, however, a massive win.

Conley's right knee and ankle buckled grotesquely in the third quarter as he tried to elude Avery Bradley.

He had to be carried off the court, which unleashed a torrent of Twitter concern for Conley, the Grizzlies' season and the inherent unfairness of the universe. Mike Prada of SB Nation provides an example:

Reggie Comma Mike Prada @MikePradaSBN

That time of year where any bad injury ruins the playoffs. Hoping for the best for Conley.

The good news is that Conley managed to make it back into the game. The bad news is that he's been banged-up all year and isn't getting any healthier, as Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com notes:

Jeff Stotts @InStreetClothes

This is Mike Conley’s 3rd right ankle sprain this season and the same ankle that endured a Grade 2 sprain last year that cost him 7 games.

The Grizzlies are sunk if Conley's not healthy by the time the playoffs roll around. It might be time to give the gutsy point guard a few games off.

Dragic Gives the People What They Want

The Miami Heat got their hands on Goran Dragic at the trade deadline because they thought he could be the kind of dynamic playmaker to lead their offense into its next era.

Turns out they were right.

This is exactly what Miami envisioned when it made the move for Dragic, as Couper Moorhead of Heat.com observed:

Couper Moorhead @CoupNBA

The ideal offense everyone imagined when Miami traded for Dragic was just actualized on that Wade cut.

The Heat took care of the Brooklyn Nets, 104-98, and Dragic teamed with Dwyane Wade for 45 points.

 

Quote of the Night

Melvin Hunt's career as the Denver Nuggets head coach spans just six games, but we know one thing about him already: He's not short on killer instinct.

Nuggets sideline reporter Blake Olson of Altitude Sports captured this eyebrow-raiser from Hunt during Denver's improbable 115-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks:

Blake Olson @BlakeOlson1

#Nuggets Coach #MelvinHunt tells his team "I'm loving this! I can feel them slowly dying" after first quarter. 57-27 1:50 to play in 2nd

And die the Hawks did, thanks to seven Nuggets in double figures and yet another spirited defensive effort. 

Is it too soon to suggest Denver remove the interim label and extend Hunt for eight to 10 more years?

Andrew Bogut Proves One Is More Than Two

In theory, Spencer Dinwiddie and Cartier Martin had the advantage in a two-on-one break against Andrew Bogut during the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors' 105-98 win over the Detroit Pistons.

In practice, Bogut proved the math wrong, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

The big Aussie finished with 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks on 6-of-8 shooting, but he surrendered 27 rebounds (including an absurd 17 on the offensive end) to Andre Drummond. The last guy to grab that many offensive boards in a game was Jayson Williams in 1997.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, which tracks offensive rebounds back to the 1985-86 season, only Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley (who both had 18) ever grabbed more in a single contest.

In other math news, the Warriors won their 51st game of the season, which, if my addition is correct, equals their total from all of last year.

Numbers are fun!

Portland Does It for Wes

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 11: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers warms up before the game against the Houston Rockets on March 11, 2015 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Wesley Matthews' torn Achilles was among the most devastating injuries in recent memory. As likable as they come, the criminally underrated Matthews was also in line for a massive free-agent payday this summer.

His Portland Trail Blazer teammates honored him before the game with custom shirts and then did him proud by beating James Harden and the Houston Rockets, 105-100. LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 26 points and 14 rebounds.

A dubious no-call or two and the late-game surge of Corey Brewer, who had 17 points in the last four minutes of the game, nearly spoiled the story for the Blazers. But Portland narrowly escaped.

Matthews took it all in, and from the looks of the photo posted by NBA on TNT, he still feels like part of the team:

NBA on TNT @NBAonTNT

Even though he's out for the season, @wessywes2 is still rocking his jersey for the @trailblazers. http://t.co/FyVbWPChH3

Hurry back, Wes.