Dean's Blog From Thunder Shootaround In Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS - Does this guy ever slow down? We're here at the Target Center at 9:40 a.m. and the Energizer Bunny known as Russell Westbrook is in full-sprint mode leading a fast break in the Thunder's early-morning shootaround. I'm on my second cup of hot java, wiping overnight crud from my eyes and hoping the Icy Hot kicks in to soothe the lower back while this cat is flying around like it's fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But one guy is arguably the best-conditioned in-his-prime genetic marvel. And the other is an aging raisin.
Your aging raisin was impressed with the Thunder's approach to tonight's game, which is exactly how they approach every game. Consistency is a product of doing something good or bad, over and over and over. Learning and copying this trait – and most everything else – from the San Antonio Spurs has helped Sam Presti and Company build a winner that is looking for its sixth straight playoff appearance.
Following the shootaround, we spent five minutes each with Russ, Scott Brooks and Steve Adams. We are posting part of an our interview with the Big Kiwi on News9.com. With no familiar network faces on the scene, Russ was again in a head-down, strictly business, quick-answer mode. He said he never felt he'd be in a scoring title race, that his sole focus is winning tonight and that his left knee needs surgery. Kidding! Just seeing if you were awake out there.
Westbrook and Adams had the same answer to my question about what part of Russ' game has seen the most improvement this season in which he's almost certain (James Harden needs to outscore Russ by around 35 points tonight to surpass Russ) to win the scoring title, increased his assists to a career high 8.6 per game, and will likely finish third in the MVP race – ahead of a gym named LeBron. “Leadership,” was the quick response. Adams raved about how Westbrook has taken his game to another level, glowing about how much fun it is to watch and play with someone with such extraordinary skill. Clearly, he's taken other parts of his game to another level too. But too often still, Westbrook's bugaboo continues to be allowing his competitively-fueled temper to rage out of control, which inevitably leads to bad decisions that end with negative results. That area must improve -- even if the Thunder are healthy next season.
We learned while at the arena that the Timberwolves will have only seven healthy bodies tonight. They played with eight in the home loss to New Orleans Monday, but Chase Budinger won't play against the Thunder, making it hard to imagine the Thunder not winning this one.
The coach and players say they'll not scoreboard watch to check in on pivotal Spurs game at New Orleans. But there was already talk amongst several in the media and close to the organization about watching the game on cell phones and iPads. No doubt, anyone in Thunder blue wanting to know what's going on will have all the information he desires.
Multiple people in and close to the Minnesota organization raved when I inquired about rookie Andrew Wiggins. They all bragged on his attitude, athleticism and the fact that only James Harden has played more minutes. Minnesota will bank on the all-but-certain Rookie of the Year (23.5 points per game) and co-rookie teammate Zach LaVine (averaging 20.2 in his last 12 games) to give them a chance at winning the season finale.
But the Thunder had the look of a team this morning that is dead set on taking care of their end of the bargain and getting back to the playoffs. Too bad they don't control their own destiny. But if there's one team the OKC Thunder would trust above all others to come through, there's no doubt it's Coach Pop and his San Antone Spurs.
Please join us on News9 for my live reports tonight at 4, 5, 6 and 10 p.m.