We’re nearing the end of this bitter, difficult journey to the season.
It started July 4 when Kevin Durant ruined our national holiday and has continued through a winter of Skip Bayless’ tweets, Stephen A. Smith ramblings and your own, vulnerable heart telling you the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t what they used to be.
What is life?
Well, this is it. The cold reality of an NBA which is its own caste system. There are “haves” and there are the “have-nots,” who have been co-joined with Russell Westbrook here in Oklahoma City.
But there’s always hope. Even for the lowest of serfs. Charlotte last season, Milwaukee in 2017 – Oklahoma City has that chance. And it’s because of Russell Westbrook.
So, with that in mind, take this as truth: The Thunder have to win four of the next five games against a better, higher-seeded Houston team. But first hey need these two things to happen tonight in Oklahoma City:
Russell Westbrook has to play at least 48 minutes
Yes. At least. After all, the game could go overtime, and if it does, the Thunder aren’t going to win if Westbrook doesn’t play every second of the extra 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Thunder aren’t going to win if Westbrook doesn’t play every bit of the 48 minutes, either. Is it healthy? Well, no. Is it realistic to play this style for any extended amount of time? Well, obviously, no. Is it the right thing to do? In the name of Kyle Singler – yes. It doesn’t take analytics to explain the phenomenon of the Thunder falling apart when Westbrook sits. The team is so devoid of offensive options beyond Westbrook, that coach Billy Donovan has no other choice.
Also, consider Westbrook might be one of the few players in the league who could actually will himself to playing every possible second. He drinks Mountain Dew. He’ll be fine.
And at the moment you think he’s too tired, doesn’t have the legs to take one more jumper, ask yourself this: Would you rather have another player take a good shot, or would you rather have Westbrook take a bad shot? At this point, it’s pretty clear.
OKC has to be defensive
And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Thunder have to hold Houston to 35-percent shooting or have the Rockets miss 25-of-30 3-pointers. It means, the best-possible option for OKC is to have Donovan play their four-best defensive players as well as Westbrook.
Why? Well, it’s not like the Thunder’s quality offensive players are spreading the floor or making life easier for Westbrook. It’s not like defenses are respecting Doug McDermott’s fleeting, few moments of greatness. It’s not like Houston is worried about if Alex Abrines might make a 3-pointer. Those are non-issues.
So, with that in mind, we know Westbrook can go get a shot. We know he can score, so Donovan shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than making sure the Thunder are effective defensively. Westbrook will be fine on the offensive end and the Thunder are going to be in trouble if Enes Kanter, Abrines, Singler or McDermott are out on the court at any point. Play Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant and Victor Oladipo as much as possible. Westbrook will be enough offensively.