By Randy Renner
While Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters he has a "long list" of things his team needs to work on and Nick Collison agreed that defense was at the top of the list, Russell Westbrook tried to shoulder most of that burden himself.
"I've gotta step up defensively, that's just what I've gotta do to help us win games," Westbrook said after Thursday's practice.
Asked if he was disappointed in his defense lately Westbrook admitted, "yeah, I am. I've just gotta be better. I'm lettin' too many guys off the hook. Just lettin' them feel too comfortable bringing the ball up the floor running what they want."
And then Westbrook got very candid and pointed a finger right at himself. "I'm just sittin' back, just chillin'. I gotta be able to set the tone early and defend for my team."
There are probably lots of ways to describe how Russell Westbrook plays the game but 'just chillin' doesn't quickly come to mind.
Westbrook though has seen it on the game film.
"I watch film after every game, the whole game, at the house or wherever and I've seen myself just standin' around watchin' and not helpin' I could be getting a lot more rebounds or just something I need to do to help us win."
The Thunder have struggled with that at times this season and especially lately. In the Thunder's last six losses opponents are averaging 13.3 made threes a game. Over the season the Thunder are averaging giving up a shade more than eight and that's among the worst numbers in the NBA.
"You gotta have the attitude of taking pride in guarding your man and also helping somebody else out," Westbrook said. "It's not about just guarding one-on-one. It's about team defense, helping each other out and trying to win games."
Collison has noticed the slippage too, not specifically Westbrook, but the team as a whole.
"I think we need to be more consistent defensively, we're still not as good as we wanna be," Collison said. "We've had some games where we've been okay, but since the break we haven't been as good as we wanna be. Our defensive field goal numbers have been creeping up and so we wanna lock in and have a solid last couple weeks heading into the playoffs."
Defense probably tops that "long list of concerns" Brooks has tucked in his pocket. "Staying in front of the basketball on the perimeter," he said specifically, "and then blocking out and getting rebounds."
Both areas burned the Thunder in their most recent game in Dallas.
Help is on the way on the defensive end. Both Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are getting closer to a return to the lineup. Just how close Brooks again declined to say.
"I don't know when it's gonna happen, we're not gonna put a date on it, but it's moving toward that direction," he said.
Perkins has put a date on it, telling reporters in Dallas he hoped to be back a week from Friday for the Thunder's April 4th game in Houston.
Sefolosha hasn't said when he's hoping to be back but at the end of the Thunder's Thursday practice he was working on 3-point shooting drills and running at what appeared to be about half speed, maybe a little more.
Brooks would love to have both back before the playoffs begin so that both players can work back into their roles.
"It's important but it's not the end of the world," he said of getting them back while the regular season is still going. "We just have to continue to work with them and then the next step is they're going to participate in some practice and then participate in most of the practice, but they're not there yet."
Coincidentally, or probably not, neither is the Thunder defense.