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NBA Fastbreak: LaMarcus Aldridge's 56-point game for Spurs remarkably unusual

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 56-point game against Oklahoma City on Thursday night was a spotlight moment for an underrated scorer.

It had been nearly 19 years since a player scored as many as 56 points without making a three-point shot, and then Aldridge did it, a testament to his efficiency and free-throw shooting (he was a perfect 16 of 16). Since the advent of the three-point shot in the NBA, only 10 players have scored 56 or more without hitting a three.

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Maybe more interestingly, San Antonio’s double-overtime win was a spotlight moment for the Spurs, who have risen from the depths of the Western Conference to put themselves back in playoff contention.

The Spurs, like Aldridge, have done their damage unconventionally.

The Spurs entered Saturday with the fifth-most-efficient offense, scoring 112.4 points per 100 possessions, doing it by taking fewer three-point shots than anyone else. Only 27.7% of their attempts are from long range — compare that to the Houston Rockets, who take more than half their shots behind the three-point line — but no team makes a higher percentage from deep.

The selective gunning is the latest evolution for the Spurs, who, despite having the same coach, Gregg Popovich, for the last 21 1/2 seasons, have always been willing to win in different ways.

This season, they’re doing it with just one three-point threat in the starting lineup: guard Bryn Forbes, who went undrafted in 2016. Their two leading scorers, DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge, both average fewer than one three-point attempt per game.

They’ve unearthed DeRozan’s playmaking skills — he’s averaging a career-best 6.4 assists. They bring shooters off the bench in Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans.

There’s some skepticism among NBA executives and scouts about the sustainability of all this. There’s a reason the league’s most analytically inclined teams shy away from mid-range jumpers — the math isn’t there to back it up.

But the Spurs, who have been declared dead plenty of times during Popovich’s tenure, haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997. Having won 14 of 18 games before dropping Saturday’s rematch with Oklahoma City, the Spurs are very much staying alive — in a very different way than almost everyone else.

Cousins set to return

The Clippers will get the first up-close look at Golden State with center DeMarcus Cousins, the four-time All-Star set to make his season debut Friday at Staples Center.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the team will start Cousins upon his return from a torn Achilles tendon.

Cousins has long been regarded as one of the best post-scoring big men, and he’s also shown the ability to step out to the three-point line. The latter fits the Warriors’ identity; the former could be a challenge to incorporate.

According to one Western Conference coach, the Warriors need a real interior presence, even more so on defense, where Cousins’ big body could take up space around the basket.

The Warriors have vowed to be very conservative with Cousins’ return, limiting his minutes and workload until he’s fully in rhythm. The more comfortable Cousins is, the better the Warriors can understand how to utilize him.

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Tip-ins

The Thunder will honor longtime forward Nick Collison on March 20 by retiring his No. 4 jersey — the first number retired since the team moved from Seattle in 2008. Collison played 14 seasons with the franchise, including four in Seattle. His longevity was more prolific than his production — he averaged fewer than six points over his 910-game career. … The Charlotte Hornets, who entered Saturday as the No. 8 seed in the East, entered Saturday 11 1/2 games behind first-place Toronto. In the West, the 14th-place Memphis Grizzlies entered Saturday 9 1/2 games out of first. … Washington’s last three wins have come at Oklahoma City and at home against Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Over the Wizards’ last five games, Bradley Beal is averaging 30.4 points. … Dallas guard J.J. Barea tore his right Achilles tendon against Minnesota and will miss the rest of the season.

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