Thursday, 5 January 2017

[SPORT NEWS]January will test the mettle of Russell Westbrook and his Thunder

After the Oklahoma City Thunder had pulled somewhat of a stunner in the Staples Center, beating the Clippers on Nov. 2 to improve to 4-0, Russell Westbrook was asked about the surprising start in the face of lesser expectations.
"Who said that?" Westbrook asked, the incredulity rising. Informed it was the proverbial "people" -- fans, media, etc. -- Westbrook smirked.
"That's where they went wrong."
Entering the season, there was even some curiosity from many within the Thunder organization about how they would perform without Kevin Durant. Despite Westbrook's braggadocio and unshakeable confidence, this was a roster flawed in several ways, not built to complement Westbrook as a lone wolf in the way it was around a combination of superstars.
At 21-15, the Thunder are exceeding the expectations of many. In the crowded middle class of the Western Conference, they're within a game and a half of fourth place and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. They've found an evolving identity, and many of their young assets are developing into core pieces.
Westbrook, of course, is at the center of all of it, averaging a triple-double -- averaging a triple-double -- nearly halfway through the season and carrying a roster full of relative unknowns into the playoff conversation. It's placed him firmly at the top of nearly everyone's MVP shortlist.
The month of January, though, could be the Thunder's -- and Westbrook's -- reckoning. They have the toughest month ahead of any team in the NBA -- by far -- with 12 of their 15 games on the road. That includes trips to face the Clippers, Warriors, Jazz, Cavs, Spurs and Rockets. They're already 0-2, with close road losses to the Bucks and Hornets, which are current Eastern Conference playoff teams. Both games were coin flips in the final five minutes, but Westbrook & Co. were unable to make the necessary closing plays.
The Thunder are trying to see it as an opportunity. They have several quality road victories this season, but January will be a true test of where they stand. It's the ultimate contender-or-pretender gut check. If the Thunder can survive, it could be the first bullet point on Westbrook's growing MVP resume.


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