Westbrook sits as Mavericks defeat Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY – There’s nothing wrong with Russell Westbrook’s knee. That’s the good news.
Now, the Thunder defense? That’s another story. And that’s not really very good news at all.
OKC coach Scott Brooks said before Sunday’s game against Dallas, Westbrook wouldn’t play, not because Westbrook was injured, but because the team was taking precautions about playing Westbrook in back-to-back games.
Oklahoma City is at Chicago Monday night, but they sure could have used Westbrook Sunday. Kevin Durant got his points (30) but without Westbrook, there was very little flow and none of the energy the team had in emotion-dripping wins over Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We have a plan," Brooks said. "We’re going to stick with it. He’ll (Westbrook) be back tomorrow. Russell in/Russell out wasn’t the factor tonight. They outplayed us. They made a bunch of shots and didn’t play with the force we usually play with."
The Thunder might have a plan with Westbrook, but they have no identity without him. Durant can score, we know that, but OKC’s options were were nonexistent past Durant. Even Brooks realized it and by the middle of the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City wasn’t just missing Westbrook, they were resting everyone else, too, sending in Hasheem Thabeet, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Mustafa Shakur. By that time the Thunder were trailing by more than 20 and the stands emptied out. The only thing left was the recurring questions about the lack of defense, whether or not Westbrook should have played and what direction this team is headed.
"There’s nothing wrong with him," Brooks said before Sunday’s game about Westbrook.
But there is with the defense and there is with the standings. After its modest, two-game improvement, OKC looked like the team that had lost its three previous two, giving up more 29 or more points the first three quarters Sunday when the game was still somewhat in question.
To be fair, the Thunder did play without Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, who were out with injuries, and they did start a pair of rookies in Steven Adams and Roberson, but this team is still playing for the top spot in the Western Conference, but you wouldn’t have known it by Sunday’s performance. Now two games behind the Spurs for home-court advantage throughout, OKC was clearly more interested in April than it was about a Sunday night in March. Sefolosha and Perkins are likely out until the end of the regular season, so certainly expect an upgrade in defense when the two return, but an adjustment period as well. The Thunder struggled when Westbrook returned, found their form in the past two games, but lost it now that Westbrook sat out.
Sunday’s game wasn’t a particularly good sign. Dallas shot 53.3 percent and the Thunder managed just 36.7 percent and the loss was the worst at home since April of 2009, the Thunder’s first season in Oklahoma City. So bad, Brooks took a timeout just 57 seconds into the second half.
"We didn’t come out with the energy," Brooks said. "We have to play better defensive basketball. I wasn’t happy. We didn’t play well tonight."
Brooks burned two more timeouts in the third quarter, but said he never considered allowing Westbrook to play. There was no temptation to play him, Brooks said, while also saying Westbrook would definitely play Monday against Chicago. Westbrook had ice taped to his right knee after the game as he headed out of the locker room. On games Westbrook does play, he doesn’t leave the locker room with his knee iced.
More bruises? Well, Adams had just two rebounds and no points in his 11 minutes. Ibaka had 19 points, but just six rebounds and Reggie Jackson’s re-insertion into the starting lineup couldn’t really be described as smooth. Jackson had 13 points and four rebounds.
"There’s no excuse," Durant said after the game. "We have to figure it out. We got to act like we care. We’ll be alright, we have another one tomorrow. We’ve got to move past it and have a short memory. It’s nothing to panic about. It’s one game."
Perhaps while simultaneously forgetting about Sunday, the Thunder can re-energize themselves Monday, but even with Westbrook scheduled to be back in the lineup, OKC has to be better defensively. Westbrook can provide some of that, but for a team that has allowed
More than 100 points in four of its past five games and is just 5-6 since the All-Star break.
"It is a challenge," Brooks said. "We love these opportunities. Move on to the next game. Hopefully we learned some things. I know we will come back and give a better effort against the Bulls."
Perhaps we’ll also learn more about who this team is as well.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK