By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
It’s not easy, this tightrope the Thunder are walking.
On one side is the plan to rest players now that OKC, win or lose the rest of the regular season, is locked into third place in the Western Conference to keep them fresh for a hopefully long playoff run and avoid any threat of injuries.
On the other is the desire to keep them sharp and in rhythm for that same playoff run.
The wrong decision at the wrong time could have disastrous consequences.
So Thunder coach Billy Donovan, the medical staff and the players themselves have been trying to come up with the best solutions to the dilemma.
For the most part what they’ve come up with is resting players with heavy minutes on the second night of back-to-back sets, then going with the regular lineup and rotations for games coming after at least a day, and preferably a couple days, of rest.
So tonight in Sacramento, after two days off for everyone and three days for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson, you can logically expect Donovan to send his regular starters out against the Kings.
Durant and Westbrook have some individual streaks and accomplishments on the line. KD has scored at least 20 points in 62 straight games and with 20 tonight he would tie Kobe Bryant’s 63 game streak from 2005-07. He can also become the first player since Michael Jordan in the 1988-89 season to average at least 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Durant comes into tonight’s game averaging 28.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Westbrook is averaging a triple-double against the Kings this season (18.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 13.3 assists) and if he gets one tonight it will be his third against Sacramento this season, the first time a player has had three triples against one team since Jason Kidd did it in 2007. It would also be Westbrook’s 18th triple-double of the season, the most in the NBA since the 1985-86 season when triple-doubles started being officially tracked.
Others have compiled lists going back through stat sheets and scorebooks individually and remember the NBA didn’t count steals or blocks as official statistics until the 1973-74 season, had the league always done that guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell would have many more than they do.
According to Interbasket.net another triple-double by Westbrook this regular season would again tie him with Magic who had 18 in the 1981-82 season. If Russ should play in all three of OKC’s last regular season games and record a triple-double in each he would tie Oscar Robertson who had 20 triple-doubles in the 1962-63 season.
The “Big-O” by the way holds the all-time record (at least as best as can be determined) for triple-doubles in a single season with 41 in 1961-62, that was also the season when Robertson averaged a triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game.
The Thunder are 2-1 against the Kings this season, losing for the first time ever to Sacramento in OKC 116-104 back in January. The Thunder beat the Kings 98-95 in OKC in December and 131-116 in Sacramento on February 29th.
The Thunder have beaten the Kings in Sacramento in nine of their last 11 games there but this will be the last in Sleep Train Arena. The Kings move into a brand new downtown arena next season so the atmosphere could be a bit more juiced than it usually is.
Who knows what the Kings may do lineup-wise. They’ve rested DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo in some games lately and to be honest it will actually be more beneficial for them to lose than to win. If the Kings win enough games to drop out of the Top 10 in the upcoming draft they have to send their first round pick to the Bulls.
Tipoff is set for tonight at 9:40 Oklahoma time and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.