Life without Russell Westbrook should have been a lot more difficult, but the Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be doing just fine, thanks to Kevin Durant simply taking his game to another level while Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are developing even more quickly than expected.
The Thunder won for the second straight game without Russell Westbrook, destroying the exhausted Houston Rockets (four games in five nights) 117-86. It seemed like the Rockets were running on empty right from the start, and gave up on trying to make a game of it quite early in the third quarter.
Kevin Durant didn’t really get much rest despite the huge lead, finishing with 33 points in 38 minutes, adding 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He is averaging 32 points and 10.7 rebounds over the last three games, shooting an incredible 57.3% from the field.
The big bonus came from the play of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, although Lamb did a lot of his damage in garbage time. A lot has been said about the necessary development in both players’ games. Jackson proved last postseason that he might not be identical to Westbrook in what he brings to the game, but he’s an adequate replacement as the point guard in the lineup, although it also means Durant gets to handle the ball more than before.
Lamb has been the one who has done a lot more for himself over the offseason. He was hardly any kind of factor for the Thunder during his rookie year, but he’s averaging 10 points per game while shooting 40.6% from beyond the arc. He scored 22 points in the win over the Rockets, hitting 8-of-10 from the field.
It’s still tough not having him here, but we know what we have to do now. We learned from our mistakes last time. Hopefully we just keep getting better and when he comes back it’s kind of a seamless transition for us. They’re so quick up the floor. We just wanted to let them see bodies and just play hard. . We’ve got to do a better job defensively on most nights but tonight was a step in the right direction.
The Rockets shot an awful 36.5% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. Their defense was lazy, and even though they allowed only four offensive rebounds for the Thunder, there really was no need to crash the boards, hitting 57.3% from the field and 42.2% from beyond the arc.
Kendrick Perkins did a very good job on Dwight Howard (4-of-13 from the field, 1-of-7 from the line) while the Rockets simply went numb in terms of thinking, taking one bad shot after the other and struggling to create opportunities or open shots without any ball movement or off of it.
It’s too early to tell if the Thunder are really going to cruise without Westbrook as well. The Rockets at their current depleted state weren’t a good test case to see just how strong the Thunder are, but there’s no reason to consider Westbrook’s injury a disaster, not at this stage of the season. The player development of Lamb and Jackson has been even better than expected, and Kevin Durant playing like a true MVP should mean there won’t be too many unnecessary losses between now and the All-Star break, unless the last two games were very misleading.