Westbrook embracing new role, leading Thunder by example

Westbrook embracing new role, leading Thunder by example

BOSTON –  Russell Westbrook is a bit of an NBA oddity – and we’re not talking about his nightly triple-double numbers either.

When Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area this summer, the thinking among many was that Westbrook would do the same.

And yet another example of when everyone’s looking for him to zig, he zags.

When others prefer to walk the beaten path of forming a super team, Westbrook goes old school and opts to blaze his own trail as the undisputed leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder who take on the Boston Celtics tonight.

As expected, he has been easily their best player.

But more than that, he’s been arguably the best player in the NBA.

The record (17-12) certainly shows his impact on winning.

And then there are the eye-popping video game numbers that most of us have never seen before.

He comes into tonight’s game averaging a triple-double of 31.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.8 assists.

But what really sets him apart from his contemporaries is his desire to be the epicenter of the Thunder’s rebuilding process in the wake of Durant’s departure.

Among the new pieces added to the mix was Victor Oladipo, currently out with a wrist injury suffered against the Celtics on Nov. 12.

Having arrived from Orlando, Oladipo has been impressed with Westbrook the player.

But the person, Oladipo says, is even better.

Which is why his decision to re-sign a long-term team with the Thunder was not surprising to Oladipo after spending some time around him as a teammate.

“He has loyalty and integrity,” Oladipo told CSNNE.com. “I’m glad I can experience this with him and do something.”

Westbrook has not shied away from the fact that he is Oklahoma City’s undisputed leader, a role he takes on with great pride with the understanding of the immense responsibility that comes with it.

That said, he doesn’t see a lot of difference between being a leader than when he played with Durant.

“I wouldn’t say … it’s the same thing,” he said. “As the point guard of your team, you have to bring it every night and have your guys follow you. That’s part of being a leader.”

And the role of being his team’s leader is one that Westbrook relishes.

“It’s very interesting, especially for me to have guys looking at you and looking up to you,” Westbrook said. “I love being the guy going out to compete at a high level and make sure my team does the same.”

But as dominant as Westbrook has been, he by no means is content with his triple-double-every-night status.

“Well for him, he’s always trying to figure out ways to improve and get better,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “When you’re best player has that mentality it trickles into the team. One big thing for him is he wants to be an efficient player. It takes a great deal of concentration and focus on his part. And I would say this about Russell … he watches probably as much film as any player in this league. It’s great for our younger guys to see how he prepares himself for games and the way he prepares himself for opponents. He’s always finding ways to improve.”

But as much as he works to improve his game, he seems to find just as much joy in seeing his younger teammates make personal strides as well.

“Definitely. That’s the best part of the game, to see the smiles on their faces and the breakthroughs they have as individuals,” Westbrook said. “Once you put in a lot of work and all the work you put in, pre-practice and post-practice, see it in a game, see it come to play, that’s a great feeling.”

Said Donovan: “He’s always tried to give the team confidence and believe in themselves. He’s done a great job of that leadership-wise. Him encouraging guys to be aggressive. … he’s a guy that impacts the game maybe in no other way like any other player in this league. Because he’s so rare and impacts in so many ways … when he goes out there he’s going to play to who he is.”

Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Kyrie Irving could be back on the court in time for the Celtics to begin the playoffs.

Or not.

Irving will have what the Celts are describing as a "minimally invasive procedure" on his injured left knee Saturday. NBC Sports Boston talked to Dr. Christopher Chihlas from Southcoast Health -- who has not examined Irving but is familiar with his type of injury -- about how long Irving may be sidelined.

"A minimally invasive procedure is basically an arthroscopy," said Dr. Chihlas. "His return to play is mostly dependent on what is done . . . If it's just a cleanout, as we're being told, then -- best-case scenario -- we could see him back playing in three to four weeks."

But, he added, "it could be double that . . . depending upon what exactly is found . . . 

"The key here is the patella fracture (which Irving suffered during the 2015 playoffs). My feeling is that he's suffering a bit of the consequence of the patella fracture, which is a fracture into the knee joint . . . [He] may need to have this done periodically to get him through the rest of his career."


Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

AP Photo

Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

When it comes to Western Conference powers, the casual NBA fan will immediately think of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, or the Houston Rockets who loom as their biggest threat. 

And then there’s the next-best team in the West, Portland, which has been sneaky good this season with very little fanfare. 

Boston will see first-hand just how talented the Blazers are when these two square off tonight.

Portland’s improved play of late (they’ve won 13 of their last 14 games) is fueled in large part by them taking more 3-pointers. 

Prior to Jan. 1, the Blazers averaged 24.6 three-point attempts which ranked 26th in the NBA. Since then, they have increased their 3-point attempt average to 30.5 which ranks 12th in the league.

Couple that with a defense that has been among the league’s best most of this season, and voila! – you’ve got a team that’s playing great basketball at just the right time. 

But the Celtics on many levels, while undermanned because of injuries, are still an elite team defensively.

And the one area where Boston has been strong all season, is defending the three-point shot.

Opponents are shooting a league-low 34.1 percent against Boston from 3-point range this season.

And while Boston’s defense isn’t the same when you’re talking about not having a Marcus Smart in the lineup, the Celtics are still a formidable foe at that end of the floor. 

In Boston’s last four games, all without Smart, Boston’s defensive rating is 98.8 which is good for the fourth-best in the NBA in that time period. 

“We’ve been a next man up kind of team all season,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s why it’s important to always stay ready. Because you know at some point on this team, you’re number’s going to be called and you’ll get your opportunity.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines as the Boston Celtics seek to continue their strong play this season against Western Conference foes, at Portland. 



Terry Rozier has been a different kind of player ever since he got his first start a few weeks ago filling in for Kyrie Irving. The third-year guard has scored in double figures 20 straight games, a career first for him. In that span he has averaged 15.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from 3-point range.


If tonight’s game plays out as expected, points will be at a premium. Boston has the league’s top-ranked defense (101.2) even as its defensive rating has slipped to No. 5 in the league (103.1) since the all-star break. Meanwhile, the Blazers have the seventh-best defensive rating (104.3) this season, but are third (101.0) in the NBA since the all-star break.


You will be hard-pressed to find a player who wouldn’t mind a little rest with the playoffs less than a month away. But are a couple days without games too much rest? It certainly looks that way for the Celtics who are 4-6 this season with two or more days of rest before a game. The Portland Trail Blazers are at the opposite end of the success spectrum with a 10-3 record when they’ve had two days of rest before a game. 


Both Boston and Portland have been among the NBA’s better defensive rebounding teams all season. But they have each stepped up their defensive rebounding play this month. Portland, the fourth-best defensive rebounding team this season, have grabbed a league-best 83.2 percent in March while the Celtics, the sixth-best defensive rebounding team this season, are up to No. 3 (80.6 percent) this month.


Jayson Tatum is nearing the end of one of the best rookie seasons by a Boston Celtic ever, well on his way to statistically cementing himself as one of the franchise’s best first-year players ever. The 6-foot-8 forward is 35 points shy of tallying 1,000 points which would make him the ninth rookie ever to do so for Boston, with the last to do so being Ron Mercer during the 1997-1998 season.