Russell Westbrook is enjoying the luxury of having new court-mates to help carry the burden for an Oklahoma City team that many have tabbed as one of the top contenders in the West. However, after a poor shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony helped contribute to a second half collapse in Friday night’s 101-94 loss to Boston, it’s fair to expect Russ to tighten the reigns once again.
Currently third on the team in scoring (19.5 PPG), Westbrook hasn’t had a problem sharing the ball. What we do know that he has a problem with is losing. There’s perhaps not a player in the league who detests walking off the floor on the short end of the scoreboard more that the reigning MVP. He takes losses personal and looks to the shortcomings as motivation.
Standing in Westbrook’s way on Sunday evening is Damian Lillard and a Portland team that’s pretty salty across the board in team defense. The Trail Blazers are seventh in the league in points allowed per game and are third at crashing the boards with an average of 49.1 rebounds per game.
The Thunder are no slouches either when it comes to team defense. An average of 96.4 points per game ranks OKC 3rd in the NBA at scoring defense and 17th in rebounding at 43.1 boards per game.
With difficult match-ups at all five positions both teams will look towards their alpha males to lead them. Portland is allowing 20 points per game to the point guard position and Oklahoma City is surrendering just 18.38.
Westbrook vs. Lillard
Lillard is producing 26.1 points per game, off 40% shooting from the floor, and is Portland’s primary scoring option. While Russ has more options than his counterpart, I would expect him own up to the challenge and take a larger role in OKC’s scoring, which in turn will fuel Lillard to attempt to match him.
This game has all the makings of a classic point guard duel and it’ll most likely be determined by two factors outside of scoring. Rebounds and turnovers are going to tell the tale here, and it just so happens that each has an advantage here.
Westbrook is outpacing Lillard on the boards, with his team-high 9.4 rebounds per game, but he’s also turning the ball over at a higher rate. Russ gives it away, on average, 5.4 times per game while Damian Lillard is a bit more conservative at 3.1 turnovers per contest.
The player who leads these two categories will not only win the duel of the point guards but also have his team in position to take the game. Yes, it really is that simple.