'I always say this is a very good team,' Dwyane Wade said about the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat's opponent in the NBA Finals. 'But Russell Westbrook is what makes them very special because there is no one else like him in the …
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OKLAHOMA CITY — Celtics guard Rajon Rondo scored 44 points in one game, had a triple in another and averaged 21 points and 11 assists for Boston during the Eastern Conference final against Miami.
But for the Heat, the biggest point guard challenge of these playoffs still awaits.
“I always say this is a very good team,” Dwyane Wade said about Miami’s opponent in the Finals, Oklahoma City. “But Russell Westbrook is what makes them very special because there is no one else like him in the NBA.”
Kevin Durant is the Thunder’s mega star while Westbrook is the mercurial star for the Western Conference champions, who host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night. The second team All-NBA point guard can be as maddening as magical. But one thing is certain — he is the catalyst for the most athletic team in the league.
Westbrook, 23, is the best Robin (with Durant playing Batman) in the league outside of Wade, and some will argue Westbrook is better. He may be the league’s quickest player, certainly is among the most athletic and he’s a point guard with a scorer’s mentality. What makes him even more dangerous is that his mid-range jumper is developing.
“He’s end-to-end as explosive as anybody in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He plays with incredible force. We’ve seen what a dynamic point guard can do (in Rondo). I think the difference is how offensive minded (Westbrook) is.”
The Heat has done a good job with Westbrook the last two seasons, holding him to 31.3 percent from the floor (25-of-80) in four games and forcing 16 turnovers with just 23 assists.
But the 6-foot-3 Westbrook has been much more under control while leading the high-scoring Thunder during this playoff run. He is averaging 21.7 points in the playoffs with 5.6 assists and just 2.3 turnovers.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks refused to accept the Heat are Westbrook’s Waterloo, instead citing the Thunder and Heat split their series the last two years.
“I look at things differently than numbers,” Brooks said. “I thought Russell did a good job of controlling the tempo here and we were in a position to win there.”
In that game in Oklahoma, Westbrook had six assists and four turnovers while shooting 4 of 16.
Analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls Westbrook “dynamic” with the ability “to hurt you in multiple ways, as far as steals into the open court, he’s an excellent rebounder and then pushing the ball.”
Heat guard Mario Chalmers will cover Westbrook with help from Wade, much like Wade chipped in on Rondo during key stretches last series. Wade was surprised to hear the Heat has kept Westbrook in check the last two years.
“We have? Westbrook? That’s news to me,” he said.
Chalmers and Westbrook are from the same 2008 class in which Westbrook was chosen fourth overall out of UCLA and Chalmers was taken in the second round, 30 picks later, out of Kansas. The 6-2 Chalmers said his focus is to keep Westbrook out of the paint, where he becomes more dangerous with the ability to draw defenders and find Durant or get to the rim in a split second.
Westbrook knows that won’t be easy.
“They attack the ball real well, especially in pick and rolls, and do a great job of rotating,” he said. “It definitely can be tough at times to score on them.”
Analyst Greg Anthony agrees Westbrook needs to remain on the perimeter.
“If you’re Miami, you’re going to want to make him a jump shooter,” Anthony said. “It’s harder to guard the pass so you want to make him a volume shooter and not allow him to get in the paint and break the defense down.”
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