Russell Westbrook on Friday embraced the pressure that now comes with the Thunder being the best team in the Western Conference at 27-7 at the All-Star break. The two-time All-Star said he likes being in the position where every team is looking to knock off the Thunder.
“I mean, we was on the bottom,” Westbrook said. “We worked our way to the top. So it's not a bad thing to be on top and be where we want to be at this halfway point of the season.”
Westbrook then said it's satisfying to be at the top of the standings, although it's not the team's ultimate goal.
“It's a great feeling,” Westbrook said. “It just shows that we're getting better. That's definitely a big step for us.”
WESTBROOK STICKING BY DURANT
A popular question at Friday's media sessions for the Eastern and Western Conference teams was, ‘Which player is the toughest to cover regardless of position?'
Westbrook, without hesitation, chose teammate Kevin Durant.
“As a (shooting guard),” Westbrook called Durant, “he can play (shooting guard) through (center). He's probably the toughest you're going to guard. The average (shooting guard) is about 6-5, 6-6. He's 6-10. You're at a disadvantage already.”
When asked which player he'd consider as the league's most clutch, Westbrook also pointed to Durant.
“The past couple of years it's been shaky,” Westbrook said. “Everybody asks that question of who's the most clutch, Kobe (Bryant) or LeBron (James) or Carmelo (Anthony). From what I'm seeing, the opportunities that Kevin has had, he's definitely taken those and knocked them down so I'm rolling with KD.”
Finally, in the spirit of New York guard Jeremy Lin, Westbrook was asked which teammate's couch he'd prefer to sleep on if he had to.
“Probably Kevin's,” Westbrook said. “He's got the biggest house.”
LEBRON EXPLAINS DUNK CONTEST ABSENCE
James on Friday offered a reason why he has yet to participate in a dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
“It's not me,” the Miami Heat star said. “I'm not a dunk contest type of guy. I'm an in-game dunker.”
James was then asked what if a $1 million, winner-take-all pot was the prize?
“Then I'd reconsider,” James said. “Wouldn't you?”
WILLIAMS STICKS UP FOR WESTBROOK
One day after Bryant stuck up for Westbrook, New Jersey guard Deron Williams became the second All-Star to back Westbrook, who's play has come under fire from national media members and fans throughout the country.
“I think people are tough on him at times,” Williams said. “I think they want him to be somebody's he's not. He's really a combo guard. He's good at what he does. He plays hard. He goes all out. I think he's a good defender. So I don't know what the controversy is.
“Maybe he's not averaging enough assists or whatever, but their team is winning. They're first in the West. That's usually the main statistic you want to see in a point guard is wins and losses.”
Westbrook said he appreciates his peers' praise.
“It's great,” Westbrook said. “All the players have a great respect for different guys. I respect other guys as well. So it's a great thing. I'm just going to continue to play.”
REACTION TO BARKLEY CRITICISM
Westbrook gave his opinion in reaction to TNT analyst Charles Barkley's opinion that the Thunder doesn't have enough scorers or a low post threat that is needed to win an NBA championship.
“I love our team, man. We have everything we need,” Westbrook said. “I don't think it's something we're missing. We got a lot of guys that can post up. Kevin, myself, Serge (Ibaka), (Kendrick Perkins).”
LEBRON ON DURANT
Durant and James worked out together for slightly less than a week over the offseason in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio. James said he didn't necessarily learn anything new about Durant but said he did see firsthand how hard of a worker Durant is.
“We both learned something from each other,” James said. “And we just tried to help each other improve throughout the summer, and it just shows why he's playing at a MVP level right now as well and why their team is on top of the Western Conference.”
The two also played a friendly game of flag football at the University of Akron, with James' team winning by seven.
“He can get a rematch,” James said. “We got one (coming). It was already in the works. He came to Akron first, so I got to go to Oklahoma City for the rematch. It'll be fun.”
Durant, however, said he's aiming for the rematch to be held in Maryland.
“I don't think I can play him again, because during the game he was making up his own rules,” Durant said. “And he had some home-cooking going on. So next time, it's going to be in my hometown in Landover, Md., hopefully at the Washington Redskins stadium. Maybe we can get the field. It's a long shot. But we'll see.”
Durant on seeking his third consecutive scoring title: “I'm not worried about that at all. I'm just worried about winning basketball games and how I can help my team win. And just figuring out how I can get better every single day. The scoring title is cool. I did that the last two years. I'm excited I did it. But that time is over. I'm just worried about winning basketball games and growing as a leader.”