Westbrook, Durant rounding into form for Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
They might have needed a little extra time to recapture their dynamic form this season following Westbrook's two offseason knee surgeries, but they've let it be known lately that they're back and better than ever.
That was never more evident than on Sunday night when the Thunder (15-4) raced past Indiana, the team with the best record in the league.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 62 points and 18 assists in the 118-94 dismantling of the Pacers, serving notice to the league that Oklahoma City fully expects to return to the NBA Finals.
''They've been good for a lot of years,'' Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. ''And then, we also have to still look at Russell as this is part of the process. ... He just finished up his first month of playing. So, he's feeling much more comfortable out there, and he's doing a great job.''
Westbrook has started to round into All-Star form this month, showing that he's fully recovered from the right knee injury that left him on the bench for the Thunder's second-round exit from the playoffs against Memphis last season.
The point guard, who had a second knee surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a loose stitch, had 26 points and 13 assists in the win over the Pacers. He shot 11 of 17, a performance that followed an 8-of-16 shooting performance in a win at New Orleans last Friday.
The games marked the first time all season Westbrook has shot 50 percent or better in back-to-back games, leading to the question on whether he felt his timing and touch are fully back.
''Almost, sometimes,'' Westbrook said. ''I've just got to continue to play, continue to get better and better and continue to try to win.''
Westbrook has played a key role in helping the Thunder win 10 of its last 11.
After shooting just 38.9 percent from the field in November, Westbrook is now shooting 47.6 percent in December. He's also raised his 3-point shooting percentage from 30.4 percent last month to 38.9 percent this month - along with increasing his assists per game total from 5.5 to 6.8.
''We know what's expected from (Westbrook),'' Thunder guard Reggie Jackson said. ''He's going to play hard every night, be ultra-aggressive. That's what we love about him. He's himself. I think we've been doing well with him since he stepped on the court for us.''
Durant has raised his level of play as well. The NBA's leading scorer at 28.9 points per game, the sixth-year pro and three-time scoring champion is averaging 31.4 points per game this month, up from 26.9 points per game in November.
Durant's shooting percentage is also up to 55.2 percent this month after a 44.9 percent clip last month, and he dominated his matchup Sunday against Indiana All-Star Paul George. George finished with 32 points, but he only had six at halftime as the Thunder raced to a 29-point lead in the second quarter on their way to the comfortable win over last year's Eastern Conference finalist.
''Anybody who's guarding me, I take it personal,'' Durant said. ''Paul George, he's a great defender, but I feel as though if I get to my spots and I do everything play hard and not force it, I can score whenever I get the ball, so that's how confident I am in myself.''