Russell Westbrook to sit out game for first time this season

MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time this season, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook will take a game off to rest Tuesday night.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan announced after Tuesday’s shootaround that Westbrook and power forward Taj Gibson will rest against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Small forward Doug McDermott (sore knee) and Andre Roberson (rest) will also not play.

It has been a historic season and road trip for Westbrook. He clinched averaging a triple-double for the season by recording his 820th assist in Friday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to accomplish the feat.

Westbrook broke Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a season with a spectacular performance in Sunday’s comeback win over the Denver Nuggets, putting up 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in his 42nd triple-double of the campaign, capping the performance with a 36-foot game winner at the buzzer.

Donovan said Westbrook ultimately made the decision to rest after discussing the issue with the coaching and medical staffs. His status for Wednesday’s season finale at home against the Nuggets has yet to be determined.

“He’s been unbelievable the way he’s played, the way he’s led,” Donovan said. “Sitting down and talking to him, talking to the medical staff, this was an opportunity [to rest him], but at the end of the day it’s his decision of how he feels and trying to capitalize on maybe taking a day off, a game off, and I get that. Ultimately, he’s going to be the one who’s going to make that decision. … At the end of the day, he was the one who also really felt that, OK, this would be a good day. I think myself and our medical staff really agreed with him that this would be a good opportunity to get some rest.”

Westbrook, an MVP front-runner with career-best averages of 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, was not made available to the media.

The 46-34 Thunder are locked into the Western Conference’s sixth seed and a first-round playoff matchup with fellow MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets. Donovan said Westbrook decided that being as fresh as possible for the playoffs was more important than playing all 82 games.

“I mean, he wants to play,” Donovan said. “I think he understands big picture. We have two games left. We know what we’re doing in the playoffs and who we’re playing against. I think he knows this is good for him. This is good for him physically. This is good for him to get a rest and have some time to make some decisions on tomorrow’s game with what we’re going to do with him. He’s a competitor, he wants to play, but he also knows there’s something bigger out there. I think taking this time is important.”

Russell Westbrook falls 4 assists shy of 8th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY — It lasted 16 days and spanned seven games, but Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak finally came to an end in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 99-96 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

Westbrook fell short by four assists, finishing with 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

“Honestly, I’m just happy we won tonight, man, that’s the most important thing,” Westbrook said when reflecting on the streak. “Me as a player, I always try to look forward. Maybe at the end of the season I can talk about it, but as of right now my job is to move forward and get ready for Portland and try to win that game.”

Westbrook was at the front of another Thunder comeback, this one from 13 down, and completed it with the go-ahead bucket with 30.6 seconds left on a driving lefty layup. On the following possession, Westbrook forced a tie-up with Avery Bradley and then won the ensuing jump ball to help seal the win for OKC.

“I’ll say this about the triple-doubles, because I always find this interesting, on a night like tonight with all the things he did, is it any less special than if he would have had a couple more assists?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “To me, sometimes we get wrapped up if he had 37 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists, is it disappointing? I get all the stuff of people wanting to talk about it, but at the same point, part of the reason he didn’t get a triple-double was we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.

“I think Russell understands and sees that certainly getting those seven straight games is remarkable,” Donovan said, “but I don’t think tonight is any less remarkable of what he did.”

The Thunder struggled shooting, hitting only 3 of 21 shots from 3-point range. Westbrook didn’t record an assist on a made basket farther than 8 feet.

Westbrook’s run of triple-doubles tied him with Michael Jordan for the longest since 1989 and put him within two of Wilt Chamberlain (1968) for the longest ever. Westbrook’s previous career long was four, set during the 2014-15 season.

During the streak, the Thunder went 6-1, the lone loss coming Friday against the Houston Rockets, 102-99. He has 12 triple-doubles on the season; the Thunder are 9-3 in those games.

“I always take the same mindset every night. It doesn’t change anything I do,” Westbrook said. “I always come out and compete at a high level every night, streak or no streak. A winning streak is more important to me, and tonight we got a win.”

Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double 24 games into the season, the furthest anyone has taken those averages since Oscar Robertson in 1963-64.

Womens Andre Roberson Jersey

The Golden State Warriors are in trouble, so naturally the talk turns to adjustments. Is there some magic trick that can save them? Or are the Oklahoma City Thunder, up 3-1 on the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, simply better in ways that cannot be countered?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t make any significant changes between Games 3 and 4. He was understandably frustrated with his team’s effort in Game 3, believing the issues to be bigger than strategy. Now, with the Warriors clinging to life, one can reasonably expect changes headed into Game 5 on Thursday. One complicating issue for Kerr and the Warriors is they already adjusted so much at the beginning of the series.

Andre Rover-son

Thunder guard Andre Roberson(Andre Roberson Jersey) is the focus of much Golden State strategy and, currently, a major source of its pain. In Game 1, the Warriors unleashed a nifty plan wherein Draymond Green played the part of rover, sagging far off the shaky-shooting Roberson so he could provide extra rim protection against Thunder dynamos Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. To further confuse Oklahoma City’s offense, shooting Klay Thompson was to guard big man Serge Ibaka.

Oklahoma City’s first points of the series challenged this tactic: Roberson cut behind Green for an easy layup. Green is an active, high-intensity defender, and he found it difficult to negotiate a territory between “ignoring” and “guarding” Roberson.

In Game 2, Golden State made a solid adjustment to the rover tactic, placing center Andrew Bogut on Roberson duty. Apart from his size, Bogut’s best quality is his awareness. As he demonstrated when “guarding” Memphis’ Tony Allen last playoffs, Bogut excels at keeping track of a guy who mostly operates off the ball.

Placing Bogut on Roberson worked wonderfully, save for an unexpected problem: Fouls are forcing the Aussie off the floor. Bogut is currently averaging 3.3 fouls per his 14 minutes per game this series, pushing the Warriors into the penalty and reducing Kerr’s use of the big man.

That’s too bad for Golden State, as Bogut has had a positive effect on an otherwise lackluster defense. In Bogut’s series floor time, the Warriors have notched a stingy 96.2 defensive rating. With Bogut on the bench, they’ve been shredded for a 112.1 rating. As for Roberson specifically, he’s struggled to score during Bogut’s brief floor time. After the Game 2 switch, he has scored seven points on eight shots in Bogut’s 30 minutes. With Bogut off the floor, Roberson has scored 28 points in 56 minutes on 18 shots.

So, unless Bogut is involved, it’s looking like the rover tactic doesn’t work well. It’s perhaps too much of a departure, more complicated than it’s worth. Also, Roberson isn’t Allen. He can actually knock down a few 3-pointers when given the chance. As a testament to that, in Game 4, Green actually started guarding Roberson like a regular perimeter player on a few possessions.

Steph on Russ

A big adjustment for Golden State in Game 5 might just be a return to the basics: Guard Roberson with Stephen Curry, as the Warriors have traditionally done against the Thunder.

One consequence of roving off Roberson is that Curry then guards Westbrook. That’s acceptable when the roving provides Curry with sufficient backup, but one wonders if it’s still too taxing a task for the MVP with a possibly gimpy knee. Though, to be fair, Thompson’s Game 4 foul trouble in the first half likely pushed the Warriors into more of that matchup than they would have preferred.

Speaking of which, the conversation surrounding whether Curry is 100 percent has been lacking in nuance. It’s more a source of argument than speculation, as possible explanations get assailed as excuses. “Were we calling him injured after his 17-point overtime quarter?!” the refrain goes.

First, that “I’m back!” quarter was shocking in large part because Curry obviously wasn’t wholly right, often landing on one foot after shots. Second, let us take a step back and acknowledge the backdrop of this particular conversation. Curry has missed action in eight playoff games with two separate injuries, an unusually long absence in a postseason. It would be bizarre if he felt no lingering effects from two intense rehab processes. It would be odd if he easily got back to top form after the first knee injury of his career.

When we’ve seen MVP Curry this postseason, we’ve seen him in the briefest of flashes. He delivered the aforementioned 17-point OT in Portland and, in Game 2 of this series, 15 points in two minutes. Those two hot stretches account for 3 percent of his playing time since the first injury, but 28.5 percent of his points. There’s been a lot of lackluster in between. The last time we witnessed a Curry-level command of a game for multiple quarters was in the first half of these playoffs, against Houston. Since then, Curry has twice been able to catch lightning, but he hasn’t quite been able to seal it in a bottle.

Is that because he’s hurt? Who knows. One can raise the possibility without excusing his horrible passing and finishing in Game 4. It’s also possible to note the possibility while giving the Thunder immense credit for seizing upon the weaknesses of a faltering player.

Curry had been upfront about his knee pain until this series started badly, and he has since clammed up about it, offering a curt, “I’m fine,” when queried. Hurt or otherwise, he knows it doesn’t really matter to the public and to history. If you’re playing, you’re accountable for the results. And whatever his condition, there’s little reason for Curry to simply hand Thunder players the basketball at point-blank range.

In any event, the Warriors should adjust by easing Curry’s defensive burden. That means more Roberson duty. He has to do a far better job than Golden State has done this series in paying attention when Roberson slashes.

Switch some things

Another adjustment the Warriors should possibly elide is their reluctance to switch on plays involving Durant. Golden State’s small-ball lineup has succeeded in part because they switch nearly everything. When Green’s been involved in pick and rolls, they’ve sometimes elected to hedge or trap Durant. This reluctance allowed Roberson (there’s that guy again) two easy rolls to the rim late in Game 4. While it’s possible the Warriors are afraid of drawing their top rebounder too far from the rim, it might be worth it to just let Green guard Durant.

Again, this would fit the bill of keeping things simple. And that might be the big Golden State adjustment, in general. The Warriors beat Oklahoma City three times in the regular season, largely without gimmicks. Maybe if they get back to basics, they can save their season.

Authentic Russell Westbrook Jersey

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Portland Trail Blazers something to think about.

Russell Westbrook(Russell Westbrook Jersey) had 17 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds in his 12th triple-double of the season, and Oklahoma City beat the Trail Blazers 128-94 on Monday night.

If the playoffs had started Monday, Portland would have been at Oklahoma City.

“We know we might face these guys in the playoffs, so we wanted to send a message,” forward Kevin Durant said.

Westbrook had the 31st triple-double of his career and matched Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo for the most assists without a turnover in a game this season.

“Just enjoy the process, come out and play at a high level, like I do every night,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter scored a season-high 26 points, Durant added 20 and Serge Ibaka had 15 for the Thunder, whose 45th win matched their victory total from last season. Oklahoma City shot a season-high 59 percent from the field.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum added 15 for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of seven. Portland shot a season-low 34.1 percent from the field.

Portland allowed its highest field goal percentage of the season, and Oklahoma City’s field goal percentage defense was its best of the season.

The Thunder improved to 12-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double, and he fell one rebound short of having it by halftime. He collected his 10th point on a layup with 3:37 remaining in the first half and notched his 10th assist on a pass to Ibaka for a dunk with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter. He got his ninth rebound with 3:25 left, but couldn’t snag another one. He had 10 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists at the break.

According to STATS, no NBA player has collected a triple-double in the first half of a game since the start of the 2002-03 season, when the company began keeping track.

“He’s a handful,” Lillard said. “He was coming off pick-and-rolls, making plays for guys, and they made shots. I didn’t think he did anything different tonight than what he does all the time.”

Oklahoma City led 66-42 at halftime, and Westbrook contributed five more assists in the third quarter to help the Thunder go up 102-72 at the end of the period.

The teams will meet one more time in the regular season, on April 6 in Portland.

STAT LINES

Durant had at least seven assists for the fifth time in the past six games to boost his season average to 4.8.

ON THE RISE

Kanter is averaging 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds in his past five games. During that span, he has shot 69.4 percent from the field and 94.7 percent from the free throw line.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Durant, on recent issues with turnovers: “It’s not like I’m just running down and the ball is dribbling off my foot and I’m just throwing it out of bounds. I mean, it’s trying to make the right play.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Portland shot 31.4 percent in the first half. … Committed just four turnovers before the break. … Lillard scored 14 points in the third quarter. … Beat Orlando 121-84 on Saturday for their largest victory of the season.

Thunder: G Dion Waiters did not play for the fourth straight game. He hasn’t played since his brother’s death. … Durant scored 15 points in the first quarter, matching the most he has scored in that period this season. … The Thunder went on an 18-0 run that stretched from late in the first quarter to early in the second. … C Nazr Mohammed played for the second time since Oklahoma City picked up the free agent. He scored his first basket of the season in the final minute.

Womens Kevin Durant Jersey

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant(Kevin Durant Jersey) shot down a circulating rumor Tuesday that the Oklahoma City Thunder are operating with a Finals-or-bust ultimatum in relation to his future free agency.

“To me, it doesn’t [make sense],” Durant said of placing an ultimatum on the team. “You put too much pressure on everybody if you say something like that. Especially my teammates and the organization. They don’t deserve that. So I never said that, I never thought that.

“Like I said, I can’t control rumors from people who sit behind their desk every day and think of stuff to say. I’m worrying about coming out here every day and staying healthy and trying to battle against the best players in the world while rumors are getting written up about whatever, and I have no control over it. That’s their job, and my job is to play ball. So I never said that.”

The origin of the report came from Sirius XM Radio host and New Orleans Pelicans play-by-play broadcaster Joel Meyers saying if the Thunder don’t make the NBA Finals this season, Durant will leave in free agency.

“I made some calls over the weekend,” Meyers said. “If they don’t, I’m told if they don’t at least get to the NBA Finals, Durant’s gone. Simple as that. And to the point where he may want his own team.”

The rumor is one of many increasing free-agency ripples around Durant, after he spent the majority of the season escaping the churning rumor mill.

“There have been a lot of rumors out there,” Durant said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been totally quiet, but it’s been cool, it’s been different. I was expecting a lot, every city I go to, everybody to ask me questions, but it’s been pretty quiet. Once July hits that’s when everybody will care. They’re just worried about the season. There’s a lot of stuff going on. A lot of great players and teams playing well this year, so I’m not the focus.”

Last summer at USA Basketball, Durant made it clear his circle is very tight and unless something was coming from him, his agent, his manager or the team’s PR director, to ignore it. And Tuesday, he reiterated that.

“If it didn’t come from me or anybody I know, like I said in the summertime, I don’t know where it came from,” Durant said. “Everybody makes up rumors around this time of year and everyone wants clicks for their stories, so that’s a part of it. I have nothing to do with that. I can’t control it. I’m just focused on playing better each and every game.”

The idea that it’s title-or-bust — or in this case, Finals-or-bust — is a pretty shortsighted one, because with all the variables that go into the postseason, placing that much significance on an isolated series overlooks the importance of both the future and the past in the decision. As Durant knows all too well, injuries can derail an otherwise promising situation. Like he said himself, that type of mindset doesn’t make sense.

Obviously the better the Thunder do in the playoffs the better they make their case to Durant to re-sign in Oklahoma City, but they’ve also been making a pretty strong case the past seven seasons. The Thunder have sustained their status as a contender, with uncontrollable variables — i.e., injuries — being the biggest roadblock during that time.

There has been no championship, and that’s the topping on the cake. Without a title, the door remains open for a wandering eye.

The closer July 1 gets, the more Durant’s decision will come into focus. There are a lot of options available to him, with probably the most pragmatic being to sign a one-year deal and to delay this circus one more year. (The thinking: With the spiking salary cap coupled with the fact Durant would hit 10 years of service, making him eligible for a 35 percent max contract, he’d be looking at a difference of roughly $85 million.)

For Durant, he’s prepared for these types of stories, and he wasn’t bothered Tuesday by having to answer the questions that come along with them. He calmly stood and took in each one, and he gave a strong, thoughtful response one-by-one. He’s not searching out the drama; he just knows it’ll find him.

“I come in here and I hear it a lot. I may turn on the TV here and there and then I see it, go on social media and you see it all the time,” Durant said. “It’s hard to get away from it. But my family and my friends do a good job of shielding me away from that stuff, and I just try to take it with a grain of salt and move on and know it’s a part of the business and know it’s a part of this game.”