State of the Thunder: Russ being Russ
OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook is seen as everything from rogue to apathetic.
And in any given game you’ll hear he’s an amazing talent and that he doesn’t get back on defense.
But one thing Westbrook has never been is phony.
This isn’t a Dwight Howard/Kobe Bryant situation where there are team chemistry issues. This isn’t a Dwight Howard/Stan Van Gundy situation where there is a coach and player issue. None of those things are in play in Oklahoma City.
This is Westbrook. He’s never changed and he likely never will. His coaches don’t seem to have a problem with him and his teammates certainly haven’t made any waves about him, either.
Got a problem with him, his style, attitude or shot selection, it’s time to get over it. It’s our problem. Not his. In the past week, Westbrook has stormed off the court after a tantrum and then been a model citizen the past two games.
That’s not Westbrook being unpredictable, that’s us being surprised about it.
He’s never changed.
“Man, the guy’s a great player,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “And I knew that even when I wasn’t a coach, covering the Thunder. I didn’t understand the nitpicking about shooting too much. No, the guy’s a heck of a basketball player. Kevin Durant is a superstar. Russell Westbrook completes this team and makes it tough for an opposing team’s coach or design to be simply on Kevin Durant. Those are two guys with their foot on the gas pedal.”
Undoubtedly, coach Scott Brooks and Thunder management have talked with Westbrook about his on-court behavior, particularly last week when he blew up at teammate Thabo Sefolosha, was benched and then carried on next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks on the bench before walking off.
And it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect the same thing might happen again. Westbrook is the most-emotional player on the team. He’s also the easiest to read. And that’s why you see so many folks make judgments on his character, criticize his effort and even praise his abilities – sometimes in the same sentence.
In the last four games – including the one in Oklahoma City against Memphis where he had his episode – Westbrook has shot 50 percent or better three times. It’s the first time this year he’s shot 50 percent or better three games in a row. He was 8 of 19 against Golden State Wednesday.
Enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t, so don’t be surprised when it ends.
Who’s Hot: When Serge Ibaka hit his first jumper of the game Wednesday, an 18-footer, it made me think, if he hits that shot, the Thunder are nearly unbeatable. Ibaka is such a force inside, but he’s really developed a shooting touch. He had six blocks against the Warriors, but he was also 7-of-10 shooting. He’s been over 50 percent from the field for eight of his last nine games.
Who’s Not: Hard to say for sure, but it looks like DeAndre Liggins has fallen out of the rotation. After getting early playing time for a stretch, Liggins is back to mop-up minutes. Liggins also got two technical fouls in the last week. He injured his left leg and was limping after the game Wednesday.
1. In OKC’s past six home games, all wins, its average of victory is more than 20 points with an average final score of 111-91. But don’t get too worked up. While one of the wins came against Memphis, the other five are not exactly the elite of the NBA – Philly, Denver, Minnesota, Dallas and Golden State. The Thunder are 37-12 overall and 21-3 at home. The big test comes Thursday when the Heat come to town for the first time since last year’s NBA Finals. And as good as the Thunder have been at home, Thursday’s game will go a long way in sending a message. The Thunder have lost five in a row to the Heat, including one this season. .
2. No matter what happens, coach Scott Brooks opens up his postgame media session by talking about defense. Whether that’s designed or just organic, it’s hard to say, but Brooks is setting the tone by suggesting this team isn’t about offense. It’s almost like he feels like he needs to remind folks that this team is more than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and big offense. The Thunder had 16 blocks, a season high, against Golden State on Wednesday and held the Warriors to 41-percent shooting.
3. Would you believe Kevin Durant leads the league with nine technical fouls? If he gets 16 this season it would result in a one-game suspension. “I shouldn’t have got a tech,” Durant said after picking up one against Dallas. “I just got to shut up and play my game and just fight through it.” Durant won’t get to that magic number of 16. He’s too smart and he could very well have the last one rescinded. I’d be surprised if he gets more than three the rest of the season. However, the bad thing is, similar to Kendrick Perkins, I’m concerned Durant is getting a reputation. Refs know he’s going to question them, so they’re even quicker to pull the trigger on a technical.
“Coach (Mark) Jackson should talk to a couple of his bench players, make sure they get wet behind the ears before they come barking up a couple of our players’ tree. Yeah, yeah. I take it personally. It wasn’t only talking trash. They did a couple of dirty plays to inspire us as a team.”
– Kevin Martin about the Golden State Warriors
* No one has been more dominant against the Thunder this season than Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was Saturday. He had 35 points in 35 minutes. He figured into the scoring on 17 of Cleveland’s last 21 points. Cleveland scored 39 in the fourth quarter of its 115-110 win.
* For the second home game in a row, Westbrook and Durant got to sit out the fourth quarter Wednesday. That kind of stuff makes a difference as the season drags on.
* Odd, but the Thunder have lost to the Wizards and the Cavs two seasons in a row. Last year, the Thunder lost to Cleveland at home.
* Kevin Durant was hurt in Saturday’s game against Cleveland. According to The Oklahoman, Durant was really hurting after the game with a rib contusion. He didn’t miss any time against Dallas and Golden State.
* Only two weeks away from the trade deadline, I’ll be surprised if the Thunder don’t make a move. Still not quite sure why the Thunder haven’t played guard Eric Maynor more, if only to showcase him for possible trade options.
After a home-and-home against Phoenix (Friday-Sunday), the Thunder go to Utah (Tuesday) and then get the Heat at home on Valentine’s Day.
Tower of Power
Losing to Cleveland doesn’t help, but two wins in a row at home this past week does make things look a bit better. A four-game sweep, including one against the Heat on Thursday, will certainly put the Thunder back at the top of the list.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman