Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: To play or not to play

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm •  Published: March 18, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) scores on a fast break in the first half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on March 13, 2014.  Photo by Steve Sisney The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) scores on a fast break in the first half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on March 13, 2014. Photo by Steve Sisney The Oklahoman

The Thunder went 1-1 in its Dallas/Chicago back-to-back series. Only the wrong way. The Thunder was blasted at home Sunday night by the Mavericks, then won easily Monday night in Chicago.

No great secret why that occurred. Russell Westbrook played in Chicago and didn’t play against Dallas.

The organization has decided to rest Westbrook on back-to-backs; limit the franchise point guard to only one of two games when they’re played on consecutive days. And I agree with that policy.

Winning a few extra games in this regular season, even if it would mean homecourt advantage in coming-soon playoff series, is not as important as Westbrook’s long-term and short-term health. Getting Westbrook healthy and keeping him healthy ranks right up there with keeping Kevin Durant content in terms of franchise success.

But sitting Westbrook can lead to some strange days. The Thunder chose to play Westbrook in Chicago, and I can easily guess why.

The Bulls seemed the more difficult game. Chicago has been playing well. The Bulls are a tough, seasoned, gritty team that has persevered in the face of trouble. The Mavs are the Mavs. Explosive at times, but spotty on defense. Dallas has played over its head this season and is likely to make the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference, but the Mavs can be had. The Bulls do not go gently into the good night.

So I can see what Scotty Brooks and Co. were thinking. But it backfired. Turns out, the Thunder defense is so leaky, Westbrook’s’ absence was manifested quickly against Dallas. Offense, too, was a mess against the Mavs. But OKC’s defense was terrible. The Thunder already was missing Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins; add 32 minutes of Reggie Jackson’s defense to that void, and the scoreboard will blow a fuse against many a foe, much less the Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks.

Would the Thunder have beaten Dallas with Westbrook? Not playing defense the way the Thunder played, though maybe the Thunder wouldn’t have played that kind of defense if Westbrook had played.

Would the Thunder have beaten Chicago without Westbrook. Hard to say. But it’s possible not. Westbrook was superb against the Bulls, falling one rebound and one assist shy of a triple double.

Chicago is not the kind of team that can take advantage of the Thunder’s defensive lapses. Without Perk and Thabo, the Thunder defense has been terrible in transition. But the Bulls don’t run. The Bulls play methodical.

So it was a difficult decision. And it turned out OK. The way the Thunder is playing, 1-1 is a good two-game stretch. It’s just not the 1-1 Brooks expected.

The Thunder has several more back-to-backs. Brooks has difficult decisions to make.

At Cleveland and at Toronto. If you want a sweep, sit Westbrook at Cleveland. If you want at least one sure victory, play Westbrook at Cleveland.

Hard to know with this Thunder team which is the best move.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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