The Oklahoma City Thunder and head coach Scott Brooks don’t care who is outscoring who: Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. As long as they keep on winning, making it seven in a row following a 104-92 win over the Sacramento Kings, everyone is happy.
Slowly but steadily, the Thunder are now just one game away from .500. Maybe they lost some ground because of their star-less start for almost a month, but with Durant and Westbrook in the lineup, it’s hard to find anyone that can actually say that there are better teams. The Thunder still seem to be having some issues on offense and defense – rustiness and chemistry that needs to be re-found, but despite the mostly weak schedule that has benefited their comeback, it’s hard to argue about them being back.
Westbrook scored 32 points to go along with six rebounds, seven assists and four steals. He has been on an absolute tear since coming back from his injury, averaging 32.1 points, 8.3 assists, 7.1 rebounds, 2.3 steals with 60.1% True Shooting percentage per 36 minutes. He actually took less shots than Kevin Durant for once, but it does feel like more of the game and offense has shifted towards him. Durant has never minded Westbrook taking over, as long as it worked.
The Thunder have scored at least 103 points in six of their last seven games and have kept their opponents at 94 points or fewer through their winning streak. Kevin Durant scored 26 points in the win over the slumping Kings, who are still without DeMarcus Cousins and are or maybe not looking for a new head coach. Meanwhile, Tyrone Corbin is doing the job, but clearly the immediate effect of firing Mike Malone didn’t shake things up enough.
Serge Ibaka finished with 7 blocks in a game with some off shooting for him and the rest of the team. Only Anthony Morrow scored in double figures besides Durant and Westbrook. He, like other perimeter players, has lost minutes now that the two of them are back, but some players weren’t mean to be playing 30 minutes a night, at least not on teams that intend to make the playoffs and contend for championships. With both of them on the floor, Morrow’s shooting becomes even more effective and efficient.
The Thunder are only 0.5 games behind the Pelicans. It took them just over two weeks with the forces of Durant and Westbrook combined to climb out of the West’s cellar, helped by the fall of the Kings and the crumbling of the Timberwolves to find themselves an inch from being in playoff position. We’ll have to see just how well the return has worked for them once more difficult stretches of their schedule emerge, but for now the Thunder are on the regular path of moving back up to where we usually see them in the West.
And as for Westbrook? He might have missed a lot of games, but he has to be in there when it comes to the MVP conversation. Last year a few believed that at some point, without Durant getting in his way, Westbrook might actually turn out to be the best player on this team, or at least the most dominant. So far, this season has gotten off on the wrong foot for the Thunder, but not for Durant, and especially not for Westbrook.