Parker: Westbrook in for a surprise
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
It's the main event of the Western Conference finals: Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook, All-Star point guards having their best seasons yet. One going for a fourth NBA championship, the other still chasing his first.
This is the series where things change.
''We're definitely going to go at him. It's not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers,'' Parker said Wednesday, referring to the first two teams the Oklahoma City Thunder demolished in the playoffs. ''Their point guards are not as aggressive. It's going to be a little bit different. We're going to go at him.''
Parker scored 42 points on the Thunder doing just that already this year.
And, yes — that February showcase still bothers Westbrook.
''A little bit, yeah.''
The rematch begins Sunday.
That gives both the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs — the only teams who occupied first place in the Western Conference since the second week of the season — plenty of rest before for Game 1 between the two most dominating teams of the playoffs so far.
The Spurs have won 18 in a row and swept Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, winning by an average of nearly 14 points. The Thunder clobbered the defending champion Mavericks in four games and lost just once to the Lakers, when Westbrook averaged 25.6 points opposite Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions.
Against Jason Kidd and the Mavericks, Westbrook averaged 22.2. But as Parker reminded, Westbrook wasn't tasked with chasing or stopping a scorer on the other end of the floor. Now, Westbrook will be playing opposite the Spurs' leading scorer, who is averaging 19.1 points and a career playoff-best 7.1 assists.
It wasn't trash talk from Parker. Moments earlier, he sized up Westbrook as Oklahoma City's ''head of the snake'' and declared that the 23-year-old will be another ''great challenge'' after having just squared off with another elite point guard in Chris Paul.
But going from one All-Star to another is about the only similarity Parker is expecting.
''Chris is more looking to get his teammates involves,'' Parker said. ''Westbrook is going to be taking a lot of shots and be super aggressive.''
Westbrook is 23, an age when Parker had already won two NBA titles. They arrived in the NBA under vastly different circumstances, with the Spurs taking a chance on a then-19-year-old Frenchmen at the bottom of the first round in 2001, and Westbrook getting drafted fourth overall in 2008, three spots behind former MVP Derrick Rose.
Parker walked onto a team already with one championship, and the Spurs mostly needed him to simply be a sidekick during Tim Duncan's prime. Westbrook, on the other hand, needed to team with Kevin Durant and rebuild a franchise that just uprooted from Seattle and was 20-62 the year before.
Now 30 and a one-time NBA Finals MVP, Parker is in position to make Westbrook go through him if the Thunder are going to make the most remarkable franchise turnaround that's possible in a span of just four seasons.
''We're not in this position without Russell's play,'' Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ''We have a good team but Russell makes us very good with what he does. His talents and his skills and his work ethic and his determination, sometimes it's hard to control. ''
That's where Russell can be the anti-Parker: emotional and excited in celebration, but at other times temperamental. Westbrook was whistled for 10 technical fouls this season - only six other NBA players had more. Parker not only hasn't been hit with a technical foul all season, but Westbrook has three more technicals than all of the Spurs combined.
But Brooks isn't asking Westbrook to change at this stage of the season.
''We definitely need Russell to play with the passion that he does,'' Brooks said. ''You can't get frustrated if a guy scores on you. You have to stay within what we do but you have to have that passion. It should eat at you. You should get frustrated if somebody scores on you, if the defense breaks down and you don't feel like you did a good enough job to prevent them from scoring.''
Such was the case in February, when Parker scored a season-high 42 and had nine assists. Westbrook, who scored 18, recalled three months later that the Thunder just ''let them do what they wanted to do.''
Not even the Spurs are counting on that again.
''He had an unbelievable night,'' Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. ''But erase it. It doesn't carry. This is a different story. We're starting from scratch.''