Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook ending his struggles vs. Miami Heat key to OKC Thunder title hopes

Russell Westbrook has blossomed into one of the best players in the league over the years. He’s one of the most polarizing players though often making boneheaded decisions that you don’t expect from a player of his caliber.

Recently and mostly this season, Westbrook has really cut down on those bad decisions. His turnovers are down and his efficiency everywhere else has been rising.

But against the Miami Heat, Westbrook reverts back to his old habits more often than versus any other opponent.

We saw it yesterday in the highly anticipated Christmas Day NBA Finals rematch that the Thunder lost 103-97. Westbrook played 43 minutes and shot 5-for-19 from the field scoring 21 points and dishing out just three assists.

It wasn’t a very “point guard-like” performance from Westbrook which is what the Thunder needed considering playmaking was in high-demand for them as they reverted back to an isolation-heavy offense.

Westbrook has had some good games against the Heat over the past two years but never as a point guard or playmaker.

In the past two seasons, Westbrook and the Thunder have played the Heat eight times winning just twice. Westbrook has averaged 24.6 points and 5.5 assists per game on just 38.7 percent shooting. He has been terrible shooting from beyond the arc at just 18.2 percent while attempting 4.1 threes per game.

Under control, Westbrook has been anything but against the Heat. He’s been the exact opposite of what the Heat have embodied in this matchup too led by LeBron James.

That contrast hasn’t bode well for the Thunder obviously. The question still remains though: Does Westbrook need to get under control more when playing the Heat or just wait for his time when his over-aggressive play is simply too much for Miami to handle?

It’s probably going to be a little of both. Westbrook can’t be as out of control as he’s been at times vs. a patient and sound Miami defense. But then again you don’t want him to throw away the aggression that has resulted in a 43-point NBA Finals game and six offensive rebounds yesterday.

Finding that balance isn’t going to be easy for Westbrook if the Thunder continue on the same path they have been on vs. Miami. The slow start reared its ugly head again yesterday as the starting five the Thunder was at a big disadvantage facing Miami’s.

When the Thunder get behind, Westbrook and everyone else start pressing for OKC. The assists and execution of the offense dwindles and it becomes a mad scramble to get back into the game. This is probably because the Thunder value this game more than others. Normally, they will more calmly claw their way back into a game but against the Heat, they want it so bad they are anything but calm.

Some major changes are necessary if the Thunder want to seriously challenge the Heat in a potential NBA Finals matchup. Westbrook needs to be better first and foremost but that can be achieved by better starts, changes to the rotation and better patience all the time.

These things will come in time for the Thunder. Waiting for that is difficult but we’re already seeing signs of these solutions being reached this season, just not against the Heat, yesterday, on the biggest stage the NBA has provided this season.

Tags: Miami Heat Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

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