You take the good with the bad with Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately for the Lakers on this occasion, the bad was costly.
LA fell to the Philadelphia 76ers at home 113-112 on Monday (all times AEDT) after a puzzling last possession from Westbrook with the game on the line where he failed to get a shot off.
Following a Joel Embiid miss at the other end, Westbrook dribbled the ball up the court with over 13 seconds left with the Philly big man guarding him.
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Westbrook nearly lost the ball on a drive before circling back, driving again and getting blocked by Georges Niang as the clock wound down and buzzer sounded.
Both Westbrook’s play and Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s decision to not call a time-out have come under fire in the aftermath, with LA so close to causing an upset over the full-strength Sixers.
Although Westbrook suggested he was fouled by Embiid in the dying stages.
“It’s unfortunate. He was grabbing my wrist, I could I couldn’t get the ball up,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.
It came in a contest LeBron James dropped 35 points with eight rebounds and 10 assists and became the second player in NBA history to score 38,00th career points, while Embiid also exploded with 34 points and 11 rebounds and James Harden had 24 points and 13 assists.
Westbrook was also prolific with a 20-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist triple-double off the bench – his fourth this season to set an NBA record and 198th overall.
But unfortunately for the former MVP, the last play became the key talking point of the game as the Lakers dropped their third in a row to fall to 19-24.
On the other hand, the Sixers improved to 27-16 and took over the fourth seed from Cleveland.
In Denver, reigning back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic hit an epic clutch three-pointer with 0.3 left to carry the Nuggets past Orlando 119-116.
With the scores tied and Denver getting one last possession to win the game, Jamal Murray passed Jokic the ball at the top of the key with just over four seconds left.
The Serbian star surveyed the court but seemingly had no options as he instead dribbled back and hoisted the long-range bomb outside the arc, which sank through the net to give his team the win.
It put a full stop on another masterful triple-double from Jokic, racking up 17 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists and two steals to lead Denver, while Aaron Gordon added 25 points.
With it, the Nuggets extended their win streak at home to 13 –including six-straight victories overall – and improved their West-leading record to 30-13 – joining Boston as the only other team to hit 30-plus wins.
Markelle Fultz recorded a team-high 20 points for Orlando with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals, but the Magic fell to 16-28.
Earlier, Nikola Vucevic produced a 43-point masterpiece as the Chicago Bulls overpowered the slumping NBA champion Golden State Warriors 132-118 on Monday.
Montenegrin star Vucevic bagged his ninth straight double-double after stepping up in the absence of injured DeMar DeRozan to help the Bulls snap a three-game losing streak at Chicago’s United Center.
Vucevic’s performance was the centrepiece of a balanced all-round offensive display by Chicago, who saw six players finish with double-digit points tallies.
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Zach LaVine added 27 points while Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu had 12 points apiece. Coby White added 15 from the bench.
“I got going really early,” said Vucevic after going 18-for-31 from the field with five three-pointers. “It’s hard to explain. You just get this feeling within yourself that it’s kinda gonna be your night and you just play.
“We really moved the ball. We really played aggressively offensively and I was able to get into my spots.”
The victory was the perfect tonic for the Bulls (20-24) as they now head to Paris next week for a regular season fixture against the Detroit Pistons on Friday.
But the loss was another alarm bell for the struggling Warriors, the reigning NBA champions who are in eighth place in the Western Conference standings with a 21-22 record.
With it, Steve Kerr’s side fell to 4-17 on the road overall including 1-10 against Eastern Conference sides.
It’s clearly been a major hurdle in the 21-22 team’s season, boosted by the returns of Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins last week.
Even Golden State was just slightly below average on the road, it’d be in striking distance of the West’s No. 1 seed amid the evenness of the conference.
Klay Thompson dropped eight triples en route to 26 points to pace the Warriors and Curry posted 20 points and 10 rebounds but the Warriors were left counting the cost of 23 turnovers.
“We’re having trouble stacking good decision upon good decision,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“That’s what this game is about — at both ends. You’re not always going to make shots but can you execute offensively without turning the ball over?
“Can you execute defensively over and over again?…We’re just not solid enough right now to be able to do that.” Kerr meanwhile refused to make excuses for the defeat.
“You can make all kinds of excuses but it doesn’t matter,” Kerr said. “Everybody’s got excuses, everyone’s got injuries with guys in and out of the rotation. We just got to do better.”
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In other games on Monday, Julius Randle scored a season-high 42 points as the New York Knicks bagged their third straight victory with a 117-104 defeat of Detroit.
Randle also hauled in 15 rebounds while team-mate Jalen Brunson finished with 27 points in a comfortable victory for the Knicks, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference table.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was left purring at Randle’s performance both in defence and offence.
“The rebounding is just huge. He got every big rebound down the stretch,” Thibodeau said. “He’s all over the place.
“He’s on the perimeter guarding guards and everything else. I thought he was terrific.” In Los Angeles, Kawhi Leonard and Terance Mann combined for 61 points in the Clippers’ 121-100 win over the Houston Rockets. Mann posted 31 points while Leonard added 30 as the league-worst Rockets slumped to a 10th straight loss
KNICKS 117 PISTONS 104
ROCKETS 100 CLIPPERS 121
WARRIORS 118 BULLS 132
THUNDER 112 NETS 102
KINGS 132 SPURS 119
MAGIC 116 NUGGETS 119
MAVERICKS 123 TRAIL BLAZERS 140
76ERS 113 LAKERS 112