LOS ANGELES — In two straight losses to the Clippers and Lakers, the Nets had the unwelcome task of defending All-Star point guard Chris Paul and budding star D’Angelo Russell. But those two were just the warmup act for the challenge the Nets face Friday night in Oklahoma City — Russell Westbrook.
If anything, the departure of Kevin Durant to join the Warriors as a free agent has forced Westbrook to become even more dominant. He’s averaging 31.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists, practically a triple-double. Veteran Nets point guard Randy Foye, who played for the Thunder last season, had a quick response when asked the last time he saw a guard with such a complete game.
“M.J.?” he asked, meaning Michael Jordan. “I’m just keeping it real. M.J. was a guy who could do it on defense, too.”
Foye then threw out Dwyane Wade as another guard who was dominant in his younger days, but he added, “Westbrook is amazing. Just watching last year how he approached the game every single day like a professional. Even though I’m an older player, that is something I will always take with me.
“He’s unbelievable. It’s going to take not just five of us but the bench and the coaching staff to stop him. I know they have an unbelievable game plan. We just have to execute it.”
The Nets practiced Thursday at USC before flying to Oklahoma City, and you can believe they worked hard on defense after allowing an average of 126.0 points to the Clippers and Lakers. “Westbrook is a good challenge for our defense,” Nest coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think we slipped the last two games, quite honestly. There was a lot of slippage. We needed to correct some things.”
Atkinson was uncertain following practice who would start at point guard. Sean Kilpatrick started the past four games, but Foye is getting healthier after returning from a hamstring strain. No matter who starts, Atkinson will work rookie point guards Isaiah Whitehead and Yogi Ferrell into the defensive mix against Westbrook along with small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Kilpatrick acknowledged he was part of the defensive slippage the past two games, but he can be a hard-nosed defender and also is likely to spend some time on Westbrook. “I’ve got to match his intensity,” Kilpatrick said. “He’s a great player, someone I basically grew up watching and being able to see his growth in the NBA is appealing to the young guys in this league.
“We have to wear him down. It’s going to take more than one guy that’s doing a great job corralling him around the rim, especially.”
Foye said he planned to share some of his knowledge of Westbrook with the rookies, Whitehead and Ferrell, but he warned, “It’s going to be unreal for them when they first see a guy with a motor like that. He’s a guy who can do it for 42 minutes at a high, high level. It’s unheard of.”
Notes & quotes. Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) was expected to be re-evaluated Thursday, but the Nets did not provide an update on his condition.
Russell Westbrook is averaging nearly a triple-double: