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Monday Bolts: 4.9.18

Royce Young recaps Saturday’s Thunder win in Houston: “Without Andre Roberson, who is a known Harden-stopper (or as much of one as can exist on this planet), George has taken the primary assignment but went to the bench shortly after Harden’s 3 for a quick rest. Russell Westbrook took over the assignment, likely to just spell George until he could return. But Westbrook, who infuriates some with his tantalizing but very inconsistent defensive ability, cranked it up. And when George checked back in after about a minute, Westbrook told him not to switch back. The reigning MVP was taking the expected MVP. “When the game is on the line, I knew what needed to be done,” Westbrook said. “I told Paul and Corey [Brewer] to take somebody else. I got him.”

Chris Thompson (Deadspin) on why the universe must deliver a Thunder/Rockets playoff series: “These two teams aren’t expected to meet in the opening round of the playoffs: the Rockets have secured the top seed, and the Thunder are currently 7th, with games left against the Miami Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies. But one way or another, it feels like this series, pitting last season’s MVP against this season’s presumptive MVP, just has to happen. No, it would not settle any stupid-ass basketblogging culture wars; what it would deliver would be a lot of bitchin’ basketball, and you can never have too much of that.”

Brett Dawson with a glimpse at the Western Conference standings: “The first of OKC’s two chances to lock up a playoff bid. Win in Miami and the Thunder is assured of no worse than the 8 seed, with a chance to move up if it wins again Wednesday and gets some help.”

Nick Gallo previews tonight’s Thunder @ Heat match-up: “That’s the task for the Thunder as it takes on the Miami Heat in the final road game of the 2017-18 regular season, one of two final chances this year for Donovan’s club to clinch a playoff berth. Needing just one win to secure one of the final 8 spots, but two wins to solidify a stronger position, the Thunder is all in on trying to rack up as many wins as possible in the final week of the season. That’ll be no easy job against Miami, an Eastern Conference squad fighting for its own playoff seeding. The Heat are tough and physical, and have a number of players that put the ball on the floor, from a variety of positions. This time around, unlike in the first matchup in March, the Heat will have center Hassan Whiteside.”

Shandel Richardson (Miami Sun Sentinel) on the Heat being in awe of Westbrook’s chase to average a triple-double again: ““It really is remarkable in today’s NBA,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday. “His level of energy night after night is unparalleled.” Westbrook’s run at history won’t be easy. He needs to grab 34 rebounds in the final two games to accomplish the feat. Although his chances are unlikely, anything is possible for a player who has an endless motor. “I would say it’s unheard of,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “He’s a special player. Last year, what he did, he did something that a lot of us thought probably would never be done again. We know everything is meant to be broken. But a lot of people thought a triple-double was pretty safe for a season. Last year, what he did was special. And to come back this year, to be where he’s at the point where he could average another triple-double if the ball bounces his way the right way a few couple times a game with the way he attacks the rebound. It’s pretty special.”

Royce Young on Paul George’s comments regarding his future: “As the Thunder battle to secure a playoff spot, Paul George said it’s not “championship or bust” for him as he evaluates this season with regard to his future free-agency decision. “As I told [ESPN’s] Rachel [Nichols], I can see myself being here,” George said. “I’ve been happy here, I’ve been happy with the organization, happy with my teammates. Our record is not what we want it to be, but I think I’ve enjoyed just learning and being around these guys. So my answer is still the same. I’m not going to let the playoffs or how we finish this season persuade or indicate where I’m going to this offseason. I’m going to put everything into this and again, I can definitely see myself being here.”

Tim MacMahon (ESPN) on Russell Westbrook not picking his MVP: “I’m not sure,” Westbrook said when asked if it was Harden’s turn to win MVP. “Obviously he’s having a good year, a great year. Their team has the best record in the NBA. I’m not sure.” Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Rockets on the road Saturday night 108-102. Westbrook had 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals; Harden collected 26 points, nine assists and four boards. Before the game, Westbrook acknowledged that Harden is the leading candidate for MVP but said he doesn’t have a choice for his successor.”

Brad Rowland (UPROXX) on Blake Griffin calling Steven Adams “underrated”: “The Oklahoma City Thunder went on the road and picked up a (very) important victory on Saturday evening, upending James Harden and the Houston Rockets to secure improved playoff positioning. As usual, Russell Westbrook had a productive game with 24 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and he was flanked by 20-plus point scoring efforts from both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. In short, it was a run-of-the-mill box score for Oklahoma City that also included a rock solid 12-point, eight-rebound showing from big man Steven Adams. During the game, though, Pistons star Blake Griffin anointed Adams as “so underrated” and that might feel strange given his statistical performance, but he happens to be very right.”

Danielle Corcione (Complex) on Russell Westbrook supporting the Oklahoma teacher strike: “When prompted a question about the strike, Westbrook responded with praise: “Education is very important to me, with the teachers standing up for something they obviously believe in. That’s helping the kids getting a better education. Them getting paid more. More funding for the schools is very, very important, so I’m definitely all that for that because I believe education is the key to a lot of different things going on in society.”

Around the League: Mitch Kupchak is the new Hornets GM…. The 76ers have won 14 consecutive games…. Kyrie Irving had a second surgery and will be ready for training camp…. How the schedule has rattled the Nuggets and their opponents…. The Jazz locked up a playoff berth…. Steve Kerr sent an urgent message to the “pathetic” Warriors.