OKLAHOMA CITY – Thunder star Russell Westbrook is on such a prolific tear not seen in the NBA since Michael Jordan played that he got yet another triple-double in Friday’s 113-99 victory over the Timberwolves while sitting on the bench.
Westbrook left the game with two minutes remaining to celebrate a victory no longer in doubt when the Thunder’s stats crew reviewed video and awarded him a 10th and final rebound when he swatted with one hand a missed shot toward the basket in a tip attempt.
His 29-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound night was his sixth triple-double in his past eight games and his eighth this season, the most in the NBA since Jason Kidd had 13 during the 2007-08 season.
“Hey, man, you get those types of things when you’re contending for MVP and get eight triple-doubles in one month,” Wolves rookie guard Zach LaVine said. “He’s on a roll. He’s very, very special. That’s the type of stuff that happens and rookies like me get stats taken away. You get two rebounds and you come out with one.”
LaVine saw an NBA sensation at close range Friday, playing the game’s final 18 minutes — most of them against a guy doing things statistically not done since Jordan and Magic Johnson played — after starting point guard Ricky Rubio left the game four minutes into the second half because of an ankle injury.
Afterward, Wolves coach Flip Saunders praised LaVine’s defense against a star once often accused of trying to do too much with four-time NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant beside him but who now has carried the Thunder back into contention for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
That is, until LaVine and the undermanned Wolves — playing without Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett and eventually Rubio — tired in a fourth quarter when the Thunder stretched a five-point lead into 18. Westbrook scored 15 of his 29 points in that final quarter.
“He had 14 points going into the fourth quarter and the guy’s been getting 40,” Saunders said. “You feel pretty good about that, but he had impact on other parts of the game.”
Saunders thought he saw a touch of Westbrook’s game when he selected LaVine 13th overall in last summer’s draft: Both players have freakish leaping ability. Both have elite speed. Both went to UCLA.
“You hope so,” Saunders said when asked if he envisions LaVine becoming something of the same kind of player. “Westbrook was definitely more polished coming out of college than Zach was, played more minutes. I’m not saying he has Westbrook-type speed, but can he develop that mentality? Westbrook has always had that. You hope that’s something he can develop, that kind of mentality where Westbrook is going at you for 48 minutes when you step on the floor.”
Westbrook reached another triple-double playing 35 minutes on a night when center Enes Kanter exploited the absence of Pekovic and Garnett with a 23-point, 15-rebound night that outdid Gorgui Dieng’s 21-point, 14-rebound game.
“It’s MVP shots, MVP-type plays,” LaVine said. “Sometimes you play good ‘D,’ and he goes over and does something incredible. He’s a rough dude so you have be rough with him, just got to do the best you can, man.”
Last summer, LaVine said he hopes his game becomes equal parts Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. On Friday he said, “I’m just going to become the best kind of player I can be” when asked about the athleticism and speed the two men might share.
“People automatically just compare you because of the athleticism,” LaVine said. “I try to take some things he does in his game and put them into mine. I’ll work on a lot of them in the offseason. Not many people have that [athleticism/speed]. I’m just trying to get some of his strength now.”