With the NBA playoffs underway, one of the most intriguing first-round matchups pits the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This puts front and center the well-documented relationship between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who were teammates on the Thunder for three years before Harden was traded to the Rockets in the summer of 2012.
Despite the two no longer playing alongside each other, they have kept a strong bond off the court over the years. In fact, there is a strong mutual respect between them that has been reverberated through the media. With that in mind, Russell Westbrook made a strong stance about his friendship with Harden when it comes to facing him in the playoffs.
“When I get on the floor, I got one friend, and that’s the basketball,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been like that since I was a little kid. My dad told me that when I was younger, ‘You got one friend and your friend is Spalding. At the time maybe it was Wilson or some other s***.’
“Whatever the ball is, that’s who my friend is.”
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given how Russell Westbrook has handled the situation with Kevin Durant this year despite playing with each other for eight seasons. Although the circumstances are different in comparison to Harden, Westbrook also declined to address the relationship between he and Durant when the Thunder played the Warriors.
Over the years, Russell Westbrook has developed the reputation as being an extremely intense and fierce competitor on the court. It is one of his strongest characteristics that has helped defined the type of player he has become. That said, he isn’t necessarily putting aside the long-standing relationship that he has with Harden that stems back to playing at the same Boys and Girls Club growing up in Los Angeles.
It’s simply showing Westbrook’s clear focus on the task at hand, which is getting the better of Harden and Rockets in the best-of-seven, first-round series. However, what makes these comments more intriguing from Russell Westbrook is that both he and Harden are viewed as the frontrunners for the MVP award. It could be argued that Harden has put together a just as compelling case for the prestigious individual honor.
In many ways, this laser focus from Westbrook toward leading the Thunder has played a significant part in helping elevate his game to an MVP-caliber level this year. Russell Westbrook has joined Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season by leading the league with 31.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds.
Russell Westbrook also surpassed Robertson’s single-season NBA record by notching 42 triple-doubles, which is a mark that stood since the 1961-62 season. On top of that, the 42 triple-doubles are more than 11 NBA teams have in their respective team history. It also moved him past Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain for fourth all-time in career triple-doubles (78) in NBA history, trailing just Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138), and Jason Kidd (107).
Russell Westbrook has also posted several other impressive feats this year such as being the first player in NBA history to record seven consecutive triple-doubles on two different occasions in a single season. Westbrook is also the only player to post five straight 30-point outings in triple-double efforts.
With all that in mind, Russell Westbrook is in a favorable matchup against the Rockets, who he put up huge individual performances against in the regular season. In four games, Russell Westbrook averaged 36.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 9.0 rebounds per game. Despite the Thunder dropping three out of the four contests against the Rockets, he has posted a pair of triple-doubles and a 49-point outing.
Ultimately, this type of mindset from Russell Westbrook should make for a much more enticing first-round matchup between the Thunder and Rockets.
[Featured Image by Sue Ogrocki/AP]