By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Of the three categories that Russell Westbrook is averaging double figures in, the one that most believed would be the hardest for him was rebounds. At just 6-foot-3 and playing point guard, it didn’t seem possible in today’s game that he could pile up the boards.
Yet, entering Friday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, Westbrook is averaging 10.9 rebounds per game. That puts him ninth in the NBA ahead of the likes of All-Star big men such as DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.
“When he defensive rebounds, it helps us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Anytime he defensive rebounds he is starting the break. That is obviously where he is very explosive. He is getting the ball earlier. His defensive rebounding to me pushes the pace and allows our guys to get out and run.”
Westbrook’s rebounding has been key in putting a together a streak of six consecutive triple-doubles. Another one would tie him with Oscar Robertson (1961) and Michael Jordan (1989) for the second-longest streak in NBA history.
As a team, the Thunder are third in the NBA in rebounding at 46.1. After Westbrook, center Steven Adams is next in line with a 7.7 average. Backup center Enes Kanter averages six boards a game.
But one of the keys for not only Westbrook to flourish on the boards, but also the entire team, the players say they have no jealousy when Westbrook swoops in and snags a board while the big men are battling under the rim.
“No one cares. We’d rather it be him,” Adams said. “I like it because I can actually box out my dude. It’s good that he gets to come in and take them.”
When Oklahoma City defeated Houston 105-103 last month, it was the Rockets who won the rebounding battle 47-44. Westbrook was held to seven rebounds.
In that same contest, the Rockets allowed a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter to slip away. Much of that was due to a horrendous shooting night from James Harden, who was 4 of 16 from the field.
Since that loss, Houston has rang up a 9-2 record and is only three games behind the San Antonio Spurs in the Southwest Division. One of the wins was a double-overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors, who own the best record in the NBA.
The Rockets are coming off a 134-95 trouncing of the Los Angeles Lakers. Guard Eric Gordon drained a career-best eight 3-pointers as the team continues to put up long distance shots with no conscience. They are first in the league at 37 attempts from 3-point range per game and have set an NBA record by making 10 or more 3-pointers in 21 consecutive games.
“I’m just settling in on my role and my role is definitely to bring a different energy and scoring, playmaking with the second unit,” Gordon told reporters. “I’m settling in and it’s getting better and better. Teammates look for me and it’s just up to me to knock down shots.”
Houston (15-7) is carrying a four-game winning streak while Oklahoma City (14-8) has won six in a row.
Even though it’s been less than a month since the last time the Rockets were in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Donovan says neither team is playing the same.
“I don’t think it is so much that Houston has changed,” Donovan said. “They’re evolving and getting better. I would hope that we’re doing the same thing. We’re evolving, we’re getting better. We’re improving.”