The conventional wisdom says that Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook relishes every opportunity he gets to be his team's first option. There are issues with this line of thinking — he gets plenty of chances to shoot whether Kevin Durant is active or in street clothes — but it is accurate to say that the lone-wolf version of Westbrook can be overwhelming in a way that he's not when the Thunder have a full lineup. It's one thing when a guy attacks fervently whenever he has the ball, but it's another thing entirely when that player is the focus of everything that happens on offense.
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Westbrook has had an opportunity to serve in that role recently with Durant having missed four of the team's last five games due to a toe injury. In the last two, Westbrook has been absolutely fantastic. In Monday's 104-97 win over the Orlando Magic, he had 24 points (8-of-15 FG), 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and four steals. Wednesday night's performance against the New Orleans Pelicans was not so balanced, but Westbrook was just as influential. He finished with 45 points (matching his career high) on 18-of-31 minutes in 40 minutes. Take a look at his highlights here:
The Thunder won by a score of 102-91, gaining ground on the Pelicans for the 9th spot in the West. OKC is still 2 1/2 games behind Phoenix for the conference's final playoff position, but making any progress without Durant is major given that the franchise is currently in line to miss the postseason for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
It's certainly not ideal for Westbrook to take on this kind of load, but he has proven that he can handle the burden. With or without Durant, the Thunder are lucky to have the enigmatic guard on the roster. No matter the circumstances, he makes things happen. He may need to be just as good on Friday when these two teams face off again in Oklahoma City to finish off the home-and-home matchup.
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