Miami Heat hoping OKC’s Russell Westbrook doesn’t ‘eat them alive’

 

OKC guard Russell Westbrook is attempting to become the first player in 54 years to average a triple-double. (Getty Images)

OKC guard Russell Westbrook is attempting to become the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double. (Getty Images)

MIAMI – Justise Winslow was asked what the Miami Heat did to limit Russell Westbrook when they faced the leader in the MVP race seven weeks ago in Oklahoma City.

“We lost by 30,” Winslow said. “He had 14 points. He probably was happy leaving the locker room.”

Actually, the Heat lost by 12, but it felt like 30 after Westbrook spearheaded a 20-0 Thunder run in the third quarter by scoring or assisting on every point. The Thunder led by 24 before Miami cut into the lead.

Westbrook’s final numbers were pedestrian by his standards – a season low in points, 11 assists, five rebounds – but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t sure the Heat had anything to do with that.

“I think the first half he probably was just reading the flow of the game,” Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t anything we were doing. It was probably his conscious decision whether he wanted to impact every possession or not.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Westbrook makes his lone South Florida appearance Tuesday as the Heat (10-21) host the Thunder (19-12) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Westbrook, 28, is attempting to become the first player to average a triple-double in 55 years. He leads the league with 31.7 points per game, is second with 10.9 assists and is grabbing 10.4 rebounds.

The last player to average a triple-double for a full season: Oscar Robertson with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in 1961-62 for the Cincinnati Royals.

“He makes you watch, doesn’t he?” Spoelstra said. “What he’s doing is unprecedented.”

Westbrook has 14 triple doubles this season, four fewer than the rest of the league combined, and 51 in his career, the most among active players.

The Heat has 22 triple-doubles in their 29-year history, including the last four by Hassan Whiteside who did it with points, rebounds and blocks. LeBron James is the Heat all-time leader with nine. Dwyane Wade has four.

“He’s got that ability that he can jump over people,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “I don’t have that. It’s tough, especially if he beats you off the dribble. Then it’s really tough to challenge his shot. He’s so explosive. It’s hard to stay in front of him.”

And just think, Westbrook could have been posting those triple-doubles while in a Heat uniform.

Miami selected Michael Beasley with the second pick of the 2008 draft. Two spots later Westbrook was taken by Seattle, which later moved to Oklahoma City.

Heat president Pat Riley spoke about that draft during a radio interview on Wednesday, the day before the Heat retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey.

“In 2008 we took a hit and we missed on that pick in Michael Beasley,” Riley said, before adding, “we didn’t really miss on it, but the best player was Russell Westbrook.”

Beasley is on his sixth team, including two stints with the Heat for a total of four years

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The Heat were hoping to atone for that mis-pick next summer. But Westbrook, who was schedule to become a free agent, reworked his contract with the Thunder last summer, signing a three-year $85.6 million deal that will earn him $26.5 million this year.

The deal, which was signed after Kevin Durant fled OKC for Golden State, has a player option that will allow Westbrook to become a free agent in the summer of 2018, one he surely will exercise considering he’d be eligible for a maximum contract that could net him around $210 million for five years.

Although Westbrook appears to be playing with an even greater purpose this season considering how the Thunder were overlooked after Durant left, Heat guard Dion Waiters said Westbrook’s intensity never changes. Waiters played with Westbrook in OKC the last year and a half.

“That’s what make him really good, always playing with that chip on his shoulder,” Waiters said last month. “And I know he plays every game like it’s his last, just by being around and working with him, I know.”

Westbrook has single-handily willed OKC to a the top spot in the Northwest Division and sixth in the West with a roster that otherwise is no better than the Heat’s.

In fact, if you remove the best player from the Thunder and the Heat (whether it’s Dragic or Whiteside), the Heat are arguably the better team.

Westbrook is scoring just less than 30 percent of his team’s points and if you include his assists, he has a hand in exactly half of OKC’s 107 points per game.

“If you don’t match his game he’s going to eat you alive,” Dragic said. “You just need to compete back. That’s the main thing. If you do that, then I feel like the players appreciate you more. Not only your teammates, but even the opponents. No one wants the easy way out.”

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