Kendrick Perkins recently rounded up Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to sit them down for a talk that he considered much-needed and, perhaps, long overdue.
The big man wanted both to check their egos at the door.
He wanted his All-Star teammates to cool it on any stat-padding and selfishness and anything else rooted in the wrong place that can work its way into a marathon season.
Perkins wanted Durant and Westbrook both to sell out for the team.
“We're getting close to the end of the season, and everything is over with as far as the All-Star Game and all that other stuff,” Perkins said. “So we can just concentrate on getting better as a ballclub and taking steps to trying to reach our goal.”
If you're searching for what's gotten into Westbrook over the past two weeks, we suggest you start with that conversation. Something about it seems to have done wonders for Westbrook.
Ever since, Westbrook has shot up to special. He's taken his already spectacular skill set to an even higher level in the blink of an eye and captained the Thunder on a six-game winning streak.
Westbrook used Sunday's 92-78 win over Chicago to confirm what has been clear for weeks: he's in the midst of the best ball of his career.
“He's grown up right in front of our eyes,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Over the past six games, Westbrook has averaged 28.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting. He's added 5.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and just 2.5 turnovers.
Beyond the raw numbers, Westbrook has demolished nearly every opponent he's faced in the past six games, and it's how he's attacked his assignments that has stood out most.
The winning streak started with Westbrook thoroughly outplaying Clippers guard Chris Paul. Westbrook scored just 19 points but was terrific defending the pick-and-roll and limiting Paul's effectiveness. Two nights later, Westbrook scored a career-high 45 points in 50 minutes against Minnesota and never lost his head against the always irritating J.J. Barea.
Last Sunday against Miami, Westbrook played through a 4-for-16 shooting night and remained sound defensively while continuing to get teammates involved offensively. Against Portland and the Lakers last week, Westbrook was simply unstoppable, scoring 32 and 36 points, respectively.
And with the Bulls playing without Derrick Rose (groin) on Sunday, Westbrook abused backup C.J. Watson in the post, in transition, in the pick-and-roll and from his sweet spot, the free-throw line extended elbow. His final line: a game-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, three rebounds, five assists, four steals, zero turnovers and zero fouls.
“To me, he's fearless,” said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau. “He sets the tone for them. All you have to do is look at their record. That says a lot.”
To some, the record isn't enough.
While Durant seems to get the glory for all 40 of the Thunder's wins, Westbrook seems to be viewed as the goat for the team's 12 losses. Everything from Westbrook's body language to his turnovers and his number of shot attempts has been criticized over the past 3 1/2 seasons.
“I don't listen to it,” said Rose, a friend and summer workout partner of Westbrook's. “Almost the same grief that he gets I'll probably get too by the way that we just play the game. We laugh about it. I actually care about what people say. But you can't stop people from stating their opinions.”
Rose called Westbrook a great player and said he likes how Westbrook has improved his decision-making and ability to get everyone involved while also staying aggressive.
It's exactly what Perk wanted his point guard to do.
“His attitude has just been crazy, in a great way; the way that he's been coming out and encouraging teammates,” Perkins said. “One thing I notice about him is that he's trying to get people more involved early.
“I think he's been doing a great job. He's been a pleasure to play with. He's definitely the key to why we're winning these games now the way we're winning them.”
Beaming with a smile as wide as the Bricktown Canal, Westbrook talked about how much fun he is now having. He explained that his success stems in large part to simply slowing down.
And then came the best part, the scary part.
“I'm still learning,” Westbrook said. “And I'm going to continue to learn and continue to get better.”