Breaking up is hard to do, but Russell Westbrook is doing just fine without Kevin Durant and often leaves his opponents feeling hurt.
Playing with the ball in his hands and the Thunder on his back, Westbrook is putting up monster numbers. He will try for a third straight triple-double when Oklahoma City visits Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
“I had a feeling just by seeing him and talking to him this offseason that he had a little extra chip on his shoulder,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I can tell that he was waiting for a moment like this where he could go shine.
“He wanted to be the leader of that team, regardless of if KD came back or not. He wanted that moment. You could just tell that his vibe was different, his energy was different. You could tell when people want those moments.”
That moment came when Durant left arguably the NBA’s best one-two tandem and signed with Golden State. The two haven’t spoken since.
Westbrook’s play is doing the talking. He’s averaging 31.2 points, 11.2 assists and 9.9 rebounds and has led the Thunder to a 10-8 record. He has a league-high seven triple-doubles and could join NBA legend Oscar Robertson as the only players to average one for a season.
“He’s a specimen,” Anthony said. “He’s a special type of talent. He’s always been that caliber player who loves to go out there and plays hard as hell every single play. But the numbers he’s putting up right now, he’s leading that team.
“I think he was waiting for this moment to come where he can really show what he can do.”
The Knicks’ three-game winning streak was snapped Saturday night in Charlotte, but they’re going for a seventh consecutive victory at home, where they’ve beaten quality teams such as Detroit, Atlanta, Portland and Charlotte.
The last three games have been especially challenging for Derrick Rose, who has had to face attacking point guards Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker (twice). Westbrook is at a different level, but Rose’s approach is the same.
“Give everybody respect no matter who it is and try and give him a tough night,” Rose said. “Show them I didn’t lose a step and show them they have to work on the other end too.”
It will take a team effort to contain Westbrook, who has five games of at least 15 assists and scored 51 points in one of his triple-doubles. But Rose probably knows Westbrook’s game and tendencies better than most.
Both were drafted in 2008 and usually train together during the offseason. Rose worked out with Westbrook in Los Angeles and Las Vegas this past summer but never brought up Durant’s departure.
“I didn’t want to ask him about it,” Rose said. “I didn’t even want to ask him. He normally gives me my space when I have things going on. He doesn’t ask me about it, so I gave him his space with everything that was going on around him this summer.”
Rose expected Westbrook to be in beast mode this season.
“Oh, yeah, he has that mentality,” Rose said. “We came in together. I know how he thinks. It’s no surprise with the season that he’s having right now.”
The only thing that surprised Anthony was that Westbrook signed an extension a month after Durant left.
“Yeah, to be honest with you, that soon,” Anthony said.
Westbrook inked a three-year, $85-million deal, ending all speculation that he would try to force a trade or sign with another team in 2017. The Knicks were considered a possible landing spot.
“That’s Russ,” Anthony said. “It’s all about what he wants to do, when he wants to do it, how he wants to do it. I think he wanted to show he was loyal to OKC.”
7 triple doubles this season*
(entering Sunday, the rest of the NBA had a combined eight)