CHICAGO — Scott Brooks still hasn’t forgotten what happened to his team Sunday.
He’d like to.
But the Thunder coach refuses to blame an embarrassing home blowout defeat to Dallas on the absence of Russell Westbrook.
“The way we played (Sunday) night, I don’t think it would have mattered,” Brooks said. “We didn’t play well enough to win.”
With Westbrook reduced to a spectator watching from the bench in warm-ups, Dallas cruised to a 23-point victory. Westbrook was held out on the first night of a back-to-back to rest his surgically-repaired right knee.
It’s all part of a plan to monitor Westbrook’s minutes and the wear he puts on his knee the rest of the regular season.
“It’s tough,” Westbrook said of watching his team struggle Sunday without him. “But at the same time, I’ve got to do what’s right for my body and for my health.”
With the Thunder beginning another back-to-back set Thursday at Cleveland — the first of five remaining back-to-backs — the team will again rest Westbrook in one of the next two contests. Brooks on Wednesday declined to reveal whether Westbrook will sit against the Cavs or on Friday at Toronto.
There are reasons to believe it will be against Cleveland.
The Cavs are without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (left biceps injury), and could be without starting small forward Luol Deng (ankle) and key reserve Dion Waiters (hip). Since stunning the Thunder with a 10-point win inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Feb. 26, Cleveland has lost six of nine and yielded 107 points in those losses.
All that to say Oklahoma City should be able to handle the Cavs without Westbrook.
Toronto could be a much tougher test. The Raptors were 37-29 and in third place in the East standings before Wednesday’s game at New Orleans.
More importantly, though, sitting Westbrook on Thursday will give him another three days of rest. The Thunder hasn’t played since Monday at Chicago, a game Westbrook also entered with three days in between contests after sitting out against the Mavs.
Westbrook could enter Friday’s game at Toronto having played just one game in seven days. It explains these peculiar nights off. They’re nothing more than the Thunder managing the schedule and hoping rest ultimately helps Westbrook sustain peak performance come playoff time and throughout his career.
“Rest is always good, whether you’re hurt or not,” Westbrook said. “But at this time, with me still recovering and still trying to get back, it was good for me to rest and get three days I had off and be able to come back and help my team win the next one.”
The question going forward is how will the Thunder perform in the games without Westbrook?
Sunday’s showing was a stunning contrast between the boundless energy Westbrook brings the Thunder whenever he’s in the lineup and the moments of meh when he is not.
Against the Mavs, the Thunder’s offense was out of sync and its defense was a mess. In the end, Dallas snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Thunder.
Brooks doesn’t expect his team to replicate Westbrook’s energy while he’s out. Few players, if any, are as relentless.
“I don’t think you can duplicate what Russell brings,” Brooks said. “But as a group, we can still continue to build on what we do…We’ve had a fair number of games without Russell that we’ve played good basketball. So I’m not going to get down on one bad performance without him…We still can play good basketball.”