Heat vs. Thunder: Will Russell Westbrook end his struggles against Miami tonight?


Dec. 25, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest matchup in tonight’s Valentine’s Day showdown between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder is LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The MVP award may very well be on the line tonight but this matchup may not be the most important when it comes to determining the outcome of the game.

LeBron and Durant nearly cancel each other out on most occasions and it’s up to the other guys to step up for each team.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, that guy will be Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook hasn’t played his best basketball against the defending champions. In 10 games vs. Miami since LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Westbrook has shot over 50 percent against them just one time while the Thunder are 3-10 in those games.

Westbrook is shooting 37.4 percent vs. the Heat while taking 21.9 shots per game. He’s taking 3.6 three-pointers per game and making just 19.4 percent of those.

He’s averaging 23.6 points per game but only 5.9 assists per game while turning the ball over 3.2 times per.

We know how important it is for Durant to get help against the Heat. Durant was out of his mind in the NBA Finals but it wasn’t enough with Westbrook struggling and James Harden not showing up either.

With Harden gone now, it has to be Westbrook to raise his game. The problem we see with Westbrook in this matchup – and it was the case back on Christmas Day earlier this season – is that he reverts back to his old, bad habits against the Heat.

Miami plays some of the best defense in the NBA. Even though statistically they have take a step back in that department this season, they are still capable of coming out on any given game and being an elite defense. That’s what they did to the Thunder earlier this season and it’s why Westbrook struggled.

Westbrook is at his best when he lets the game come to him and calmly picks his spots where he will attack the other team. When he shoots less and gets his teammates involved, he and the Thunder are at their best.

Westbrook seems to be going full speed all the time when it’s against Miami though. This has something to do with the slow starts the Thunder usually experience against the Heat because of their not so ideal starting five in this matchup. But still, Westbrook needs to slow down.

If he takes 20-plus shots and shoots more than Durant, the Thunder aren’t winning. It doesn’t matter how much Westbrook is hitting either as we saw in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last year when he dropped 43 points on them in a loss.

Westbrook has to be a point guard and at least a playmaker for the Thunder to have a chance tonight. It’s been what Westbrook has improved upon more than anything this year, we just haven’t seen that guy vs. the Heat yet.

Where Westbrook gets into trouble is that he can get by any Heat defender at anytime. His mentality then becomes to try and score because it feels so easy for him. But the Heat defense is prepared for this and has done a fine job making things difficult for Westbrook to finish once he gets into the rim.

Westbrook has gotten into a habit of attacking the Heat while not in the flow of the offense. Maybe he does this to try and catch them off guard because they rarely are so but it simply hasn’t resulted in good things for OKC.

Westbrook should be able to play the right way tonight since the game will be in Chesapeake Energy Arena. He and all of the Thunder players always play better at home and they will need to be on top of their games to have a chance tonight.

This is more than just a regular season game tonight. The Thunder need this win badly. They know they are going to get an MVP performance from Durant but Westbrook is still a wild card.

Which Westbrook shows up will say a lot in determining the winner tonight.