Evaluation: Disclose’s NBA playoff success mute hinges on Russell Westbrook

Berry Tramel
The Oklahoman

Printed 11: 00 AM EDT Aug 26, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook stood in the Houston Rockets’ corral. Did he ever sit down down? I haven’t seen him sit down all series. 

Truth is, Westbrook is a worried damage. Laborious enough to quiz Westbrook to play second chair to James Harden. I point out, Westbrook is acutely aware of dominating the ball whether or no longer his teammate is Kevin Durant or Semaj Christon. Westbrook acquiesced for Houston nearly a complete season, but no approach became as soon because it pure.

But now the basketball gods are asking Westbrook to diagram shut a chair. To sit down down and stare in these NBA playoffs as his dilapidated most attention-grabbing friends strive to upset his fresh most attention-grabbing friends.

It’s a minor miracle that Westbrook — sporting capri pants, a Kobe jersey and wild eyes — didn’t slouch onto the court docket in Sport 4 Monday night and disrupt a Disclose fleet fracture.

Even when he’s sidelined by a quad anguish, Westbrook looms spacious. No longer with his absence. Along with his presence. Westbrook has gotten extra community air time than Houston’s Danuel Apartment Jr., who has scored 16 aspects a game in this 2-2 series.

Don’t blame the cameras. They’re appropriate like us. We can’t diagram shut our eyes off Westbrook. Never would possibly presumably well even. It repeatedly became as soon as so in his 11 Disclose seasons, and it’s so now, when he’s sporting Rocket red.

There became as soon as Westbrook on Monday night, jawing with former teammates Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams. We don’t know the enviornment enviornment topic — the Zoom press conference calls forestall too grand interrogation, and Billy Donovan didn’t contact the quiz after I requested Tuesday.

Schröder, I salvage. Dennis is liable to be a menace and isn’t above a fracas or four. But Adams? Stone Chilly is a man of peace and devour. Forceful in physique but sweet in spirit. He’s as solid as Samson and will bring down the Orlando bubble appropriate by yanking on the imperfect pillar.

Westbrook and Adams were fleet friends in Oklahoma Metropolis, as a minimal on the court docket. Westbrook would jump on even talented teammates (Serge Ibaka potentially mute is in therapy), but Westbrook didn’t mess with Adams. Discretion by no approach became as soon as a Westbrook solid swimsuit, but we all know he had some, attributable to of Adams.

It’s probable that Westbrook is suitable going ride loopy, sitting out this series, especially now that the Disclose has received two straight tight games and threatens to send the Rockets home sooner than September.

All of which makes you think Westbrook rapidly will return, even though he’s no longer ready.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t even strive to promote us on the resolution being exclusively up to the Rockets medical workers.

“It’s shut,” D’Antoni acknowledged Tuesday. “They’ll kill a legitimate call, and he’ll accomplish the identical. No longer going to rule anything else out or anything else in.”

The Rockets didn’t appear to need Westbrook the important two games, every double-digit Houston wins. But these final two games, Harden has wanted a cavalry.

The Rockets contain scored 22 and 21 fourth-quarter aspects the final two games, and Harden appears to be like to be aged down. That’s an dilapidated criticism of the Feared Beard. Potentially official. How would possibly presumably well even he no longer be aged down? He dribbles 49,000 instances a game, drives into the bushes dozens of instances and takes his magnificent share of beatings.

Heck, Harden gets in a workout appropriate with his no-call traveling violations on step-wait on 3-pointers.

That’s why Westbrook became as soon as so treasured for Houston. The Rockets contain built every little thing around Harden for the rationale that Disclose’s normal-sin replace of eight years previously. Chris Paul arrived in summer 2017 and gave Harden relief when he took his leisure. When that marriage ended, Paul and Westbrook swapped addresses.

To mountainous acclaim. Westbrook is precisely what Harden wanted. An All-Monumental title sidekick when Harden became as soon as on the court docket and a load-bearing huge title when Harden became as soon as on the bench.

This season, sooner than the pandemic, Houston became as soon as 5-4 with Harden but with out Westbrook and 0-1 with Westbrook but with out Harden. That’s 5-5 when either huge title sits.

Appears to be like determined the Rockets need Westbrook. That’s no longer ground-breaking news. Who doesn’t need an extra huge title?

With out Westbrook, Houston’s offense is four guys standing around and Harden doing the full work till he dishes for an opener 3-pointer. Westbrook is no longer a stand-around guy. He would sit down again out the Rockets.

“Clearly we all know what salvage of player Russell is,” acknowledged OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “If he does attain wait on, issues will change and our game conception will change a puny bit, adding a player like that to the lineup.

“But as of supreme now we’re appropriate playing it by ear like the comfort of you guys.”

Can Westbrook return? Some mumble the tv clips of his workout Monday conceal a man ready to salvage wait on on the court docket. Others mumble they gape him favoring his supreme leg.

I don’t know. If Willis Reed would possibly presumably well even hasten into Madison Sq. Backyard 50 years previously, I buy Westbrook would possibly presumably well even skedaddle to the rescue.

“We went into Sport 1 making ready like he became as soon as going to play,” Donovan acknowledged. “Indubitably he makes their team loads faster. He makes their team higher.

“If he plays, we are going to be ready for right the flee and lunge at which he’s going to play at and the approach he’s producing and getting these other guys photos.”

Could maybe maybe well Westbrook be the swing vote? Sure. He also would possibly presumably well even damage the Rockets, if he’s no longer ready. Shining his boundaries also is no longer a Westbrook solid swimsuit. Each minute counts when the series is 2-2.

It appears to be like to be rather that it’s possible you’ll presumably well well think of that the Disclose’s playoff fortunes, which for goodbye were held in Westbrook’s fingers, mute would possibly presumably well well hinge on him.

Note Berry Tramel on Twitter @BerryTramel

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