Serenity Now Russ is becoming a familiar face around these parts.
Will he stick around?
We'll know Thursday.
With apologies to the Utah Jazz, the Thunder's opponent on Tuesday night, everyone who follows the boys in blue is looking ahead to Valentine's Day. It's the night the Heat comes to town. It's an NBA Finals rematch and a possible NBA Finals preview.
It's also a referendum on Serenity Now Russ.
In the past week-plus, we've seen a new, calmer Russell Westbrook. We've seen a huge decline in scowling, growling and complaining. The Thunder point guard is controlling his emotions, and as a result, he's controlling games like never before.
Check out his averages in the Thunder's last five games: 23.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 3.2 steals, 2.6 turnovers.
He's also shooting 51.2 percent from the floor.
He's been so good of late that he was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday.
The Thunder has won four of the five games since Serenity Now Russ appeared on the scene, all of those victories coming by 20-plus points. Had it not been for a transcendent performance by Kyrie Irving — the night Serenity Now Russ was getting his legs under him — the Thunder would've won in Cleveland, too.
Serenity Now Russ is clearly the result of the tantrum that Westbrook threw against Memphis almost two weeks ago. He stormed off the court early in the third quarter, knocking over a chair and blowing off team personnel after an outburst at Thabo Sefolosha and a benching by Scott Brooks.
And it happened with the Thunder cruising.
It was as bizarre a scene as you'll see in the NBA.
He's been a different player since then. Maybe he was embarrassed by what happened. Maybe he had a come-to-Jesus meeting with the coaches. Maybe he has seen a healer. Whatever the answer, the results are obvious. He isn't barking at teammates. He isn't glaring at officials.
But now comes the ultimate test.
This Valentine's Night game against the Heat will push Serenity Now Russ like none of these other games have. Yes, there were tests against Dallas, Golden State and Phoenix. All three have guards who have challenged Westbrook in the past, but facing Darren Collison, Stephen Curry and Goran Dragic is nothing compared to going against LeBron James and Co.
Westbrook will be amped.
That much is sure. Say what you will about the guy, but he is a competitor. He loves to compete, but he loves to win even more.
Westbrook will want to beat the Heat badly.
That'll be amplified by the way he played when these teams played on Christmas Day. Westbrook had that crazy-eyed, out-of-control look. Drives to the basket resulted in ugly shots or uglier turnovers on several occasions. He needed 19 shots to score 21 points. He managed only three assists while committing five turnovers.
And his off day wasn't confined to the offensive end of the floor. A couple of times, Dwyane Wade broke completely free when Westbrook was guarding him.
Westbrook's out-of-sync day came to a head on the Thunder's final possession of the game. With the team trailing by three, Westbrook somehow managed to track down a Kevin Durant miss — there are few guys in the league who could've swooped in and made the play he did to get that rebound — and then, he shot a three. No harm in that. But he shot like he was trying to draw contact instead of trying to make it. He extended his arms awkwardly and kicked his leg wildly.
Not his normal motion.
When he was knocked down but got no call — replays confirmed that Wade hit him on the wrist — he hollered an expletive, pounded a scorer's table and drew a technical.
Westbrook just wasn't under control during that final sequence. And while you can say that was just one play, staying under control isn't optional for Westbrook. It's something he has to do all of the time.
That's why this game Thursday against the Heat is such a big one for Westbrook. He needs to play better against these guys. He needs to walk off the floor feeling good and have something to build on should these teams meet again in The Finals.
Serenity Now Russ is going to be tested like never before.
Will he survive?
We're about to find out.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.