(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook is known as a relentless competitor.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard doesn’t want to lose basketball games or a game of ping pong and will fight just as hard in both.
That competitive demeanor has put Westbrook in position to be on the verge of averaging a triple-double for the season. However, that same fiery attitude has led him to seek out battles with referees during games when he feels he has been wronged.
Entering Saturday’s contest with the Los Angeles Clippers, Westbrook leads the NBA with 10 technical fouls. He received two of them Thursday night in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That led to an automatic ejection from the game and a frustrated player.
“Honestly, I don’t know, man. Honestly, it’s crazy to be ejected like that, especially when I didn’t do nothing,” Westbrook told ESPN.com. “It’s just crazy, man. Especially for me, because I feel like I don’t get the benefit of the doubt most of the time, especially throughout the game with refs.”
In Westbrook’s estimation, he is being treating differently than other players in the NBA of his caliber when it comes to talking with of officials during games.
“I get so many techs just for talking,” Westbrook said. “I can’t even say nothing when I’m getting hammered every time I go to the damn basket throughout the games and previous games. Not tonight, but every night. I just don’t get reffed the same way as other people, and I don’t appreciate it.”
The Clippers have had their own run-ins with refs this season. Coach Doc Rivers had to be led off the court early this season after being ejected from a game.
Then Friday night in Houston, guard Austin Rivers was tossed from the game after bumping into a referee following a layup. Coach Rivers soon joined his son in the locker room when he was ejected after getting two technicals.
The Clippers come into Saturday’s contest having lost five straight games, including Friday’s 140-116 setback to the Houston Rockets.
Already playing without the injured Blake Griffin, the Clippers have also had to compete without point guard Chris Paul during four of their last five outings. After missing three straight games, he scored 21 points in a loss to New Orleans Tuesday. Paul then sat out the game against Houston for precautionary reasons.
According to Los Angeles coach Rivers, Paul could be back in the lineup Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“He may play,” Rivers told mysanantonio.com. “We’re just going to be very cautious with it. He didn’t reinjure it or anything like that, but he did feel some fatigue, and that’s enough. If it were a playoff game, he would play. But if there’s fatigue, then that means to me more rest, and that’s the route we’re going.”
Whether Paul plays or not, the Clippers will have their hands full with a Thunder squad that historically plays some of their best ball at home on New Year’s Eve. In the eight consecutive seasons Oklahoma City has hosted a game on the final day of the year, the team has racked up a 7-1 record