Russell Westbrook

New players and no Kevin Durant, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing just fine in their quest to make the NBA playoffs, led by Russell Westbrook with another fine performance to show who the team’s real MVP is this season.

The Thunder beat the Hornets 110-103 to open up a 1.5 game lead over the Phoenix Suns as they continue to hold on to the 8th spot in the Western conference. Much like the Memphis Grizzlies last season, the Thunder will make the playoffs, but with a much more difficult road ahead of them in their attempt to win that elusive NBA championship some though was only going to be a matter of time for them once their stars started blossoming. The Grizzlies lost in seven games to the Thunder.

Westbrook scored 33 points in 35 minutes, adding 10 assists, making it quite an impressive run of games for him since the All-Star break, following his AS MVP with 67 points in two games and playing like someone who is hungry for another MVP award. Westbrook has missed 14 games this season, but if he keeps up this form (averaging 26.2 points per game with 7.7 assists) for the next couple of months, he’s going to be a very strong candidate in the MVP discussion.

Enes Kanter looked quite worthy of a big contract extension with a 10 points, 13 rebounds double double, while Kyle Singler, who joined the Thunder from the Detroit Pistons, scored 6 points and Scott Brooks will now have to figure out his rotation all over again. Dion Waiters scored 10 points off the bench, and will probably be the one enjoying more than anyone the trading away of the unhappy and miserable Reggie Jackson.

Not getting anything from the bench was a problem from the Hornets, led by Mo Williams with 24 points, Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each adding 20. Lance Stephenson remains, hands down, the worst piece of general management decision of the season, scoring 5 points on 2-of-9 from the field, and is averaging 8.9 points per game while shooting just 36.7% from the field. Waiters is a similar version of inefficiency, only cheaper.

This is the season Russell Westbrook shows he’s just as good and important as Kevin Durant. He might be inefficient, arrogant, angry and disastrous to his own team at times, but the Thunder will live and die on his ability, and that of Durant’s who is having what some might call a wasted season. Not just the time he’s off the floor, but also his ability on it from time to time. His numbers overall are good and he’s shooting over 51% from the field, but unlike last season, the consistency is off and the variance of his performances, from bad to great, is much greater.

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