By Randy Renner
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is once again keeping his plans about whether point guard Russell Westbrook will play tonight or sit on the bench a secret until just before game time.
Yesterday after the Thunder practiced in Chicago, Brooks would say only that Westbrook would indeed sit out one of the games of this latest back-to-back set, either tonight's game in Cleveland or tomorrow night's in Toronto.
Brooks has not revealed the various factors the team weighs in deciding which game of a back-to-back Westbrook will miss but it would seem logical that this one tonight would be a good one to sit out.
Of course Sunday I thought Russ would play against Dallas, thinking a game with a Western Conference opponent would be considered more of a must-win than one against a team from the East (Chicago) but perhaps that didn't even factor in.
And who knows if this will either but since the Cavs will be without their All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and also perhaps Luol Deng and Dion Waiters, the Thunder probably stand a pretty decent chance to win without Westbrook.
Cleveland (26-42) is also out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and has lost nine of the last 13 and three straight at home. Toronto (38-29) on the other hand has won six of the last 10 and currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Should Brooks decide to rest Westbrook, the Thunder (49-18) will give Reggie Jackson another start. He's averaged 14.3 points while helping Oklahoma City win 22 of 31 without Westbrook (21.4 points per game) this season. Of course every one of those games except one, were played with either Thabo Sefolosha or Kendrick Perkins (most times with both) in the lineup.
The only one that wasn't was Sunday's embarrassing home blowout loss to Dallas when the OKC defense couldn't stop the Mavs and the Thunder offense appeared to be running in mud.
Sefolosha has been out with a strained calf and Perk has missed time with a strained groin.
Brooks doesn't really connect (at least not publicly) the Thunder's poor performance Sunday with Westbrook's absence.
“The way we played (Sunday) night, I don’t think it would have mattered,” Brooks said yesterday after practice. “We didn’t play well enough to win.”
Of course you could argue (and I do) that the Thunder would have played a lot better if Westbrook had been in there and if he really is healthy and that knee really isn't causing him trouble, I'm not really sure exactly why he isn't in there.
Resting for what could end up being six games in the span of a month seems like an awful lot for a guy who is supposed to be healthy, but hey that's just me.
Kevin Durant scored 35 points per game (3.2 more than his league-high average) during Westbrook's recent 27-game absence. He also had 30 points against the Mavericks when Russ was on the bench before finishing with 35 and 12 rebounds in Monday's win at Chicago when Westbrook was playing again.
Durant has scored 25 or more in 32 consecutive games, the longest such streak since Michael Jordan did it in 40 straight in 1986-87.
"I just go out there and play to win," Durant said. "If all that stuff comes with it, then that's cool."
What comes tonight? Who knows.
If Westbrook indeed doesn't play and the depleted Thunder can handle an equally depleted Cavaliers team it probably gives the Thunder hope they can win another couple of games without three of their starters.
But if they lose and again look clueless on defense and stuck in the mud on offense it's gonna be real easy to connect the dots as to the reason why. With two other starters already out, the Thunder need Westbrook to play not sit.
Unless of course that right knee of Westbrook's really isn't as right as they keep saying it is.