The number one threat to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference this season is the San Antonio Spurs, a team that the Thunder dismantled in the Western Conference Finals last year.
The Thunder were supposed to have gotten over the hump that is the Spurs but it doesn’t really feel that way.
James Harden’s departure and Russell Westbrook’s tendencies make it appear that the Thunder still need to figure out how to beat this team.
Westbrook is having another fantastic season but he changes against certain teams. The Spurs (along with the Miami Heat) are one of those teams that can make Westbrook become reckless and the point guard that hurts his team instead of helping it.
Westbrook is second in the NBA in usage rate this season behind only Carmelo Anthony, accounting for 32.1 percent of the Thunder’s possessions. In the Thunder’s two losses vs. the Spurs this season, Westbrook’s usage rate has been 37.4 percent. In their win, it was 26.5 percent.
Too much Westbrook can be a bad thing. Even the most efficient players in the NBA start being less so once they take a certain amount of shots. This is certainly the case with Westbrook who is better in smaller doses than 37.4 percent for the Thunder.
Westbrook has said before (after a loss to the Heat) that he needs to stop putting all of the pressure on his shoulders. He feels responsible to bring his team back on his own when they are down and things are not going well. He knows he needs to trust his teammates more in these situations.
It’s something Westbrook is still learning to do. He hasn’t mastered it yet and definitely not when playing the Spurs.
Tonight, the Thunder will be playing at home after being off the last four days against a Spurs team that is known for resting its players at this point in the season.
The Spurs are without Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson and potentially more. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sat out last night’s game vs. the Magic but they could play tonight.
The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference will be on the line as the winner of this game will be in the driver seat and in control of their own destiny in terms of getting that seed.
The Thunder won’t win without Westbrook playing under control.