Depth is helping the Chicago Bulls overcome a slew of injuries.
Russell Westbrook is practically doing it on his own for the Oklahoma City Thunder, putting him in rarefied air.
Westbrook looks to continue his dizzying stretch without the help of Kevin Durant on Thursday night when the Thunder go for a sixth straight win over the Bulls.
Already among the league leaders with 27.0 points and 8.1 assists per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of outstanding over his last four.
The All-Star guard is averaging 37.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists in those four games, becoming the first player to post four straight triple-doubles since Michael Jordan had seven in a row in 1988-89. He’s also the first since Jordan to have back-to-back triple-doubles while scoring at least 40 points.
"It’s definitely a blessing," Westbrook said, "but more importantly, I think it’s important that we’re winning."
Westbrook led the Thunder (34-27) to their ninth win in 11 games Wednesday, setting career highs with 49 points and 16 rebounds while adding 10 assists in a 123-118 overtime win against Philadelphia. He did all that despite wearing a mask to protect a broken bone in his right cheek, which forced him to miss one game.
”For those of you, including myself, that thought Russell might need a couple of games to get used to wearing a mask, we were wrong,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ”He was all over the floor.”
Westbrook’s stellar stretch also comes with Durant – the reigning league MVP – out for at least another week with a sore right toe.
Wednesday’s win kept Oklahoma City alone in eighth place in the Western Conference, one game ahead of New Orleans.
This will be the first of only two road contests in an 11-game stretch for the Thunder, and it comes against an opponent they’ve won five straight against.
Westbrook came up just short of a triple-double in the most recent matchup with the Bulls (38-23), scoring 17 points with nine assists and nine rebounds in a 97-85 road victory March 17.
Chicago was forced to use its 19th different lineup this season in Tuesday’s 97-92 win over Washington, is most since using 20 in 2007-08.
Coach Tom Thibodeau has had little choice but to shuffle his lineup with former MVP Derrick Rose (right knee), All-Star Jimmy Butler (left elbow) and reserve forward Taj Gibson (left ankle) all sidelined. Rose and Butler might be back before the end of the regular season, while Gibson will reportedly miss at least a third straight game.
"It’s going to be the collective effort. You don’t replace a Derrick or a Jimmy or Taj individually. We have to do it as a team," Thibodeau said. "They’re going to keep coming, they’re all tough. We’re going to need a lot of resiliency and a lot of fight."
Rookie Nikola Mirotic has a second consecutive strong game Tuesday, scoring 23 points and Aaron Brooks added 22 to help the Bulls win for the eighth time in 11 tries.
"We just gotta hold the fort down until those guys come back, and I think a lot of the young boys really stepped up in a big game," center Joakim Noah said.
Mirotic has totaled 52 points on 17-of-36 shooting (47.2 percent) and 17 rebounds in two games without Gibson after accumulating 51 points on 36.2 percent from the floor in his previous eight games.
"He’s a stud. Floor spacing is very important in this league," Noah said. "As you watch the league and watch the trend of the league, being able to space the floor is very, very valuable and Niko can do that very well."
This is the finale of a seven-game homestand for Chicago, which is percentage points ahead of Cleveland for the Central Division lead.