Before taking the practice floor at Toyota Center Friday, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and his team had a film session ahead of their first round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The coach said one thing about his team’s opponent was emphasized.
“Well, I would say (Russell) Westbrook was a topic of conversation, just randomly,” he said with a chuckle.
You can’t talk about the Thunder without talking about Westbrook, now the favorite to win the league’s MVP after becoming the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double.
“He’s one of the most explosive point guards probably to ever play the game,” Patrick Beverley, the man who will draw the Westbrook defensive assignment when the series tips off at 8:00 Sunday night, said.
While he averaged a triple-double against the league, Westbrook did not replicate those numbers in four regular season games against the Rockets. He did average over 36 points per contest, but was limited to 9 rebounds and 9 assists. The Rockets won 3-of-4 from the Thunder in the regular season, winning the two games that Westbrook hit the triple-double threshold.
“I think Russell is the catalyst,” Rockets guard Lou Williams said. “He makes a lot of it go. He makes a lot of the plays for them, so I think he’s a very intricate part of what we’re trying to do as far as stopping those guys.”
Then of course, there’s the battle between Westbrook and Rockets guard James Harden, who Westbrook has seemingly overtaken for the MVP award. The talk about the two former teammates will carry the series, but on Friday, Harden already sounded sick of talking about it.
“I don’t really care about the (MVP) talks, I just want to win,” he said. “First game is on Sunday, and it’s the first one to four.”
Beverley took it a step further.
“That shit’s over,” he declared. “I think the (MVP) votes were in today, so that shit’s over with, that means nothing at all right now. Our focus is about the team as one.”
Harden and Westbrook will likely never be matched up against one another over the next couple of weeks. Thunder forward Andre Roberson will draw the Harden assignment, while Beverley will take Westbrook when the two share the floor. Beverley knows it will be a challenge, but he doesn’t care.
“You know me, it will be fun.”