So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
When James Harden returned to Oklahoma for the first time, the basketball reception from his former teammates was in line with the Thunder’s newfound edge. Harden didn't just go 3-for-16; he had six of those attempts sent back, and for as much love as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have for their friend, it was clear they wanted to show him what he would miss.
Last night, Harden returned the favor. His 46 points were a career high, and he did it on 19 shots. Sixteen of those points came during a fourth quarter in which his team trailed by 11 with eight minutes left. In many ways, it was just another great James Harden game, only with the volume turned up. But that final 3, the one playing on a loop above, is all anyone needs to get that last night was about something more. Harden probably didn’t need to try to make Ibaka fall over twice, and he probably didn’t need to stare down the Thunder bench after burying the game-tying 3. But he did. If it seems a little vindictive, that’s because it is. And I love every bit of it.
In case you were out learning that what you thought was Oscar Fever is actually just an untreated strep infection, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
In their first game since the death of longtime team owner Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 113-99, at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant, who led a ceremony in Buss's honor before the game, was somber afterward, saying, "He's not gone, man. You can't just get rid of a guy like him. He's still here, with us, in this locker room. In fact, he's in my locker right now, waiting to scare me, like I'm a fool. But I'm not a fool. He's the fool, and he's way out of line." Dwight Howard then emerged sheepishly from Bryant's locker holding a blonde wig and a Jerry Buss mask.
James Harden had a career night against his former team, scoring 46 points as the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-119. After the game, Kevin Durant was distraught in the locker room, telling coach Scott Brooks, "He was my best friend. Now he moves away, and he acts like he doesn't even know me. This is your fault! We never should've let him move! It's not fair!" Brooks nodded gently, before saying, "Do I feel guilty, Kevin? A little. Honestly, I do. I didn't want you two to have to be apart. But sometimes decisions are made, and while they hurt, they're right decisions in the long run. Plus, you like hanging out with Kevin [Martin], don't you?" Durant shook his head, fighting back the tears. "I hate Kevin! I hate everyone!" Brooks scowled at his forward, "You don't mean that, Kevin. Tell Kevin you're sorry." Durant looked at his teammate, as his lower lip started to quiver. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I like you. It's another Kevin that I don't like right now: me." Martin patted his teammate on the back, "I get it, man. The trade wasn't easy for me either. And, hey, [Thunder Assistant Coach] Mo Cheeks is gonna take me out for ice cream later. You wanna come?" Durant couldn't help but let himself smile. "Ice cream with Mo? Yeah, man. I'll be there."
In case you were busy deciding which of your biceps should be nicknamed Air Force One in honor of Presidents Day, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Anaheim Ducks won their fifth game in a row, holding off the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, at home. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased with the win, saying, "I didn't used to enjoy playing against Columbus because I thought they were named for some sort of Ohio-based mutant wasp species. I don't much care for wasps at all." Boudreau went on to say, "But when I found out their name is a reference to the American Civil War, well, as a Canadian, that doesn't affect me nearly as much as wasps. I really don't care for wasps at all. If someone wanted to make a scary team name, they should go with the Wasps."
The Lakers lost their way right around the time Dr. Jerry Buss started dying. This wasn’t a coincidence. Within NBA circles, everyone respected Buss so deeply that something relatively impossible happened. Here was the greatest professional basketball owner who ever lived, an influential power broker who controlled one of the league’s wealthiest franchises only word never really leaked about Buss’s grave condition. He spent the past year fighting cancer in a hospital bed, somehow keeping his privacy (and his dignity) in our Twitter-fueled, rumor-soaked media climate. Nobody would write about it. Or mention it. Everyone respected him too much.
Like every other NBA fan, I believed for years that Buss was a renegade playboy billionaire, someone who almost seemed like a parody of a sports owner. After he dropped $67.5 million for a Los Angeles winter sports monopoly in 1979, the ensuing Sports Illustrated feature carried the subhead, "Jerry Buss has always had a way with a chick, a cue and a buck. Now he'll have his way with the Lakers, Kings and Forum." What else did you need to know? Over the next few years, his Showtime Lakers captured the 1980s better than just about anything — smoking-hot cheerleaders, courtside celebrities, flashy fast breaks, genuine star power, excess, excess and more excess. They were the hottest ticket in town, the best basketball team of that decade, a team that partied almost as extravagantly as their owner did.