It is no secret that the Oklahoma City Thunder have had their share of problems without Russell Westbrook missing time. Their most important win since his injury came in a road win Thursday against the Houston Rockets. Kevin Durant has heard more criticism over the last month than he has ever had to endure at any point of his career. Some say he is shooting too much, and others believe he is not shooting enough. It seems to be a lose-lose situation for KD, but no one can deny that he has been playing at an extremely high level.
The Thunder are 7-6 without Westbrook this season, a record that does not seem to impress many, but I think it is a good mark for a team whose chemistry is unbalanced. Reggie Jackson has been solid and has shown improvement as the starting point-guard. He will be even more effective when Westbrook returns. To me, this team has slightly improved. We will not see the final product until they are completely healthy, but I have faith that they will impress their fans and doubters alike.
In Thursday night’s win, this team held a powerful Rockets team to just 19 second-half points. That speaks volumes to this squad’s heart and dedication on the defensive side of the ball. The Thunder are now 2-0 against Houston this season, winning both with and without Westbrook. The most important factor in this win was the shot they delivered to the Rockets’ confidence and the boost in confidence for the Thunder themselves. The Rockets have to believe that they just cannot beat this Thunder team even when Westbrook is out. Houston has not been the title-contending team that we thought we would see after they acquired Dwight Howard in the offseason. It looks as if they will need a lot more time to find an identity and become more consistent against the NBA‘s elite teams.
With the statement in Houston, OKC has shaken off the some of the dust. They should be ready to prove to the world that they are good enough to compete through the injuries without Durant overworking himself in the process. With 36 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the win, KD has kept himself on a hot-streak and will not be cooling off anytime soon. He has two 48 points outings in January alone, and it will not be a surprise if he pulls off another. I know it is tough for OKC fans to watch their team limp to victories and squander leads without Westbrook, but it is great to see Durant take over games and put up huge numbers. Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams have also been more consistent lately, and their role on this team will only increase as the season rolls on. OKC still has many questions to be answered, but they are definitely headed in the right direction.