Russell Westbrook nearly carried the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs last season with Kevin Durant sitting out injured for the last two months.
Durant isn't expected to be gone that long this time around, but Westbrook's teammates are going to need to step up for however long Durant is out.
Everyone – including Westbrook – struggled as the Thunder had their winning streak snapped, and they'll look to bounce back Monday night when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City lost a tiebreaker for a postseason berth in 2014-15 despite Durant missing 55 games with broken bone in his foot, as Westbrook recorded 11 triple-doubles and won the scoring title.
Durant has been out the last two with a strained left hamstring and will miss at least two more despite him saying he feels much better. The Thunder (6-4) beat Philadelphia on Friday but had their three-game winning streak end with Sunday's 100-85 loss to visiting Boston.
Westbrook had a triple-double in each of his previous two, but he finished 5 of 20 from the field with four rebounds and five assists. He scored 27 points, with 15 coming at the free-throw line.
Serge Ibaka was the only other player in double figures with 16 for Oklahoma City, which shot a season-worst 36.4 percent.
“We just have to lock in and do what we're supposed to do, and do it for 48 minutes,” Westbrook said.
Facing the Grizzlies could be even more of a challenge with Durant out, as they've had some success defending Westbrook. He's shooting 27.5 percent from the floor while averaging 18.7 points over his last three against them.
Memphis (5-6) has won three of the last four meetings but hasn't been as strong defensively as in previous years, allowing an average of 101.1 points per game. It is on the verge of allowing at least 100 in four straight for the first time since March 6-12, 2011.
The Grizzlies had enough offense to overcome their defensive issues in the last two, though. They beat Portland 101-100 on Friday before shooting a season-best 56.3 percent in Sunday's 114-106 win at Minnesota after entering the contest shooting a league-worst 40.1 percent.
Jeff Green, replacing struggling guard Courtney Lee in the starting lineup, scored 21 points and Mike Conley added 20. Conley hit 7 of 14 from the field and 4 of 6 from 3-point range after shooting 34.7 percent from the floor over his first 10.
''We know we're shooters,'' Conley said. ''We've been in this league a long time and we've made our names with what we do, so we just have to stay aggressive, stay confident and tonight we finally saw some go in.''
Memphis also has been encouraged by the play of Mario Chalmers, who was acquired in a trade with Miami on Tuesday. Chalmers had 11 points in his team debut against Portland before scoring 16 against the Timberwolves.
''Long arms, good athlete, defender and he does a good job of getting after people with ball pressure defensively,'' coach Dave Joerger said. ''He's a good shooter, stand still. Has a real moxie about him and the way he plays in pick-and-roll, just takes his time to find guys like a quarterback would.''
Marc Gasol has struggled in his last four against the Thunder, shooting 38.8 percent while averaging 12.5 points.
- Courtney Lee
- Jeff Green
- Kevin Durant
- Marc Gasol
- Mario Chalmers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Mike Conley
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Russell Westbrook
- Serge Ibaka