(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
While that is nothing new in Oklahoma City, it is becoming the norm during road games as well for the MVP candidate.
During the win over the Magic, Westbrook displayed every skill needed to be MVP-worthy. The 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists gave him his 38th triple-double of the season. He recorded the highest point total in a triple-double in league history.
Westbrook and the Thunder return home to face the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
“That is definitely a blessing,” Westbrook said of stunning statistical season. “I definitely don’t take this game for granted, and I try to come out each night and try to compete at a high level. That is definitely something that is a blessing and definitely something that I can be proud of.”
However, for Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, it was an intangible that Westbrook put on display that has stood out this entire season.
“Some people get freaked out about, ‘I don’t want to be the guy who misses, I don’t want to be viewed that way,'” Donovan said. “Then there are guys who don’t think about that. They go for the win. Russell always plays to win. There’s a mindset you have to have for that.”
With eight games left in the regular season for the Thunder, it is hard to imagine what else Westbrook can do to separate himself from the rest of the MVP contenders, in particular, Houston Rockets guard James Harden.
Westbrook can start by racking up a few more wins against the top-tier teams. After getting run off the court twice in the past two weeks by the Golden State Warriors and Houston, a win over the Spurs at the Chesapeake Energy Arena could bolster Westbrook’s resume.
But more important for the Thunder as a team, a victory would aid their bid to grab home-court advantage for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Sixth-place Oklahoma City (43-31) is 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Utah Jazz (46-29) and 1 1/2 games back of the fifth-place Los Angeles Clippers (46-31), with the top four securing the home-court edge.
The Spurs (57-17) are also playing the seeding game. But after a crushing loss to the Warriors on Wednesday, they now trail Golden State (61-14) by 3 1/2 games for the No. 1 overall seed.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never voiced too much concern over seeding. He likes to give the impression that as long as his team is in the playoffs, they have a chance to win the championship.
With a lock on No. 2 in the West, there is no guarantee that Popovich won’t rest some of his starters.
However, the combination of the loss to the Warriors and a loss the last time San Antonio came to Oklahoma City, and the Spurs could be aching to get back into the win column as soon as possible.
“It’s the NBA. You can’t dwell on any of them,” Spurs forward Danny Green told NBA.com. “You learn from it and move forward, be more professional, and try to get better.
“In the past, that’s where Timmy (Duncan) was good for us, or teams in the past just collectively. We wouldn’t let things like that happen. It might happen, but rarely. But I think it’s happened more often than it should here at this time and this year.”