The one man mission Russell Westbrook is on to do as much as possible on his own and put the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs remains intact, leading his team to a 101-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers with another impressive individual performance.
It always begins with the stat line when it’s Westbrook, scoring 36 points to go with 11 rebounds and 7 assists. The misses? He shot 13-of-27 from the field and turned the ball over five times. As many wise and less than wise have said about Westbrook: It’s just something you have to live with, because there’s no other way he’s playing. Be it something to hold against Scott Brooks or not, it really doesn’t matter at this point.
The Blazers are going to be without home court advantage in the playoffs, finishing fourth only due to their division title. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t play, nursing a hurting ankle, and there didn’t seem to be too much for them to play for. Nicolas Batum left the court at the end of the first quarter after some pain in his knee, although the X-rays returned negative. In what remains of this season for them (one game and a few days of rest), letting their best players heal up is the most they can do.
Besides Westbrook it was Enes Kanter, an offensive revelation since his trade from Utah and a huge defensive hole, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 10.9 boards per game since the trade, suddenly one of the more productive big men in the NBA offensively, although it does come at a higher pace than most teams.
That was about it for the Thunder, getting 13 points from Dion Waiters and 11 from Anthony Morrow. Waiters shot an awful 4-of-21 from the field. If Westbrook is relatively efficient, someone has to be the wasteful black hole on offense, a role Waiters happily has been filling since his NBA career began and has taken mostly wrong turns.
So what now for the Thunder? One game left, for both them and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans hold the tiebreaker advantage through the head-to-head, which means that if both teams win their final game of the season, the Pelicans go through. The only way Oklahoma City end up in the playoffs is if they win and the Pelicans lose to the Spurs. Westbrook is leading the scoring title race and might be a long shot for the MVP (teams with poor records don’t produce MVP winners), but it’s all about making the playoffs for him, even if he doesn’t always seem to play that way.