The Lakers were in town Friday night.
You know what that means. Russell Westbrook's time to shine.
Westbrook's hometown team usually brings out the best in him. The Lakers or Kobe Bryant, whichever the case may be.
The Thunder routed the Lakers 122-97, a verdict so one-sided that Westbrook, along with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, took off the fourth quarter. Otherwise, Westbrook would have been in triple double land.
Instead, Westbrook settled for 19 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists and the knowledge that he again made Kobe, his one-time hero and one-time Olympic teammate, marvel at Westbrook's game.
“The Lakers is a legendary team,” Westbrook said. “It's fun playing against them.”
Fun playing against Kobe, too. Since his rookie year, Westbrook is averaging 22.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists against the Lakers. His last five games against LA, Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 9.6 assists.
Scotty Brooks figures he knows from where that production comes. Westbrook's drive.
“He's as fierce of a competitor as you will find in this league,” said Foreman Scotty.
Similar, in fact, to Kobe. Brooks likened Westbrook's demeanor — “Russell's a very competitive guy. Russell doesn't like a lot of opponents. He's not a friendly type of competitor.” – to Kobe's.
“Both very competitive,” Brooks said. “Russell, he's as competitive as anybody I've ever been around.”
Of course, Friday night was not a fair fight. This was just Kobe's third game back from an Achilles tendon tear last spring. The decimated Lakers had to play Kobe at point guard, and he was content to pass. Kobe had 13 assists and just four points. That's two points fewer than Kendrick Perkins scored for the Thunder, and Kobe had about as much elevation as Gran Torino.
“Obviously, right now, he's working his way back, getting back to where he was,” Westbrook said with considerable decorum.
The Lakers, out of options, asked Kobe to cover Westbrook. Seemed like a good way to tear another Achilles. But here's the maturation of Westbrook. Time was, that competitive spirit swelled into negative energy. Westbrook trying to do too much on his own.
There was none of that Friday night. Maybe Peter Pan is all grown up.
Sure, Westbrook took more shots, 19, than anyone else on the court, but that was mainly because he could get a shot at anytime.
But more often than not, Westbrook looked to playmake.
In the third quarter, Westbrook had four assists in a span of 1:39. An alley oop to Andre Roberson for a dunk, a dish to Ibaka for a reverse layup, a toss to Perkins off a pick'n roll and an alley oop to Durant for a dunk.
Just another in a string of outstanding performances by Westbrook. He's not saving it all up for the Lakers. In points, rebounds and assists, Westbrook's previous three games were 27-6-9 at Memphis, 14-9-11 at Atlanta, 26-7-13 against Indiana. All in the last six days.
That makes 45 assists in his last four games. That's the third-best four-game stretch in Westbrook's career; he had 49 assists in four games in January 2011 and 46 in four games in March/April 2010.
“Just finding open guys,” Westbrook said. “Sometimes you gotta kind of take yourself out of the picture and know the bigger picture of the game. Serge, Kevin, whoever's in the game with me, Andre. Keep their confidence high. That's my job.”
It's a job he does particular well against the Lakers, who bring out the best in Westbrook.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.