The 76ers’ game plan against Russell Westbrook on Friday night is simple.
“What you do is,” coach Brett Brown said, “you say, ‘Get back, then good luck.’ ”
The Sixers (14-13) won’t have to worry about the Oklahoma City Thunder running 11 or so plays for him at the Wells Fargo Center. Nor do they have to prepare for the point guard taking static rise-up three-pointers.
“It’s that you better load up the first three, five seconds of a shot clock,” Brown said. “And good luck, because here he comes.”
The NBA’s reigning MVP is the fiercest player in the league. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder plays with the edge of a mixed martial artist. Yet, he also gets around the court as quick as anyone in the league. That makes the 10th-year veteran tough to stop once on a roll.
Westbrook is averaging 22.6 points, a league-leading 9.9 assists, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 36 minutes.
He recorded his league-leading ninth triple-double of the season in Wednesday’s 100-95 road victory over the Indiana Pacers. The 29-year-old finished with 10 points to go with game highs of 17 rebounds and 12 assists.
Last season, he averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists to join Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season. Robertson accomplished the feat for the Cincinnati Royals during the 1961-62 season. Westbrook also had 42 triple-doubles to break the league record of 41 set by Robertson during the ’61-62 campaign.
As a Los Angeles Clipper, JJ Redick has had some battles against the Thunder (13-14) the last four seasons. He said it’s hard to point to one thing that stands out about Westbrook.
“I think his fearlessness, just his demeanor and mind-set when he steps on the court [stand out],”said Redick, who signed with the Sixers in July. “He’s one of the ultimate competitors that we have in this league, and another guy that I think is a basketball genius.”
Westbrook recognizes play calls and knows where and when to exploit things.
On Friday, he will look to lead OKC to its second straight and sixth win in eight games. It would also mark their third consecutive road win.
The Thunder also hold a 16-game series winning streak over the Sixers.
OKC boasts two other all-stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who they acquired in trades this offseason. George leads the league in steals at 2.44 per game ahead of Sixer Ben Simmons (2.04) and Westbrook and Chicago Bull Kris Dunn, who are second and tied for third respectively. George also averaged 20.3 points.
Meanwhile, Anthony is averaging 17.7 points and 6.4 rebounds.
This game also marks a homecoming for Jerami Grant. The Sixers traded the reserve forward to OKC last season. This will be his first time returning to the Center.
Grant will be motivated, and George and Anthony are elite talents. However, the Sixers must first try to contain Westbrook in order to win.
“Russell Westbrook demands a team to guard,” Brown said. “You better have the fear of whomever you believe in in your heart and soul, because here he comes.”