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The Oklahoma City Disconnect

The Dallas Mavericks will win this series and make it to the NBA finals.  I am positive.  Yes, the series is tied 1-1.  Yes, they are going back to Oklahoma City for the next two games, one of the hardest places to play in the NBA.  But they are quickly learning a lesson that all young teams in the playoffs inevitably face: growing pains trifle with success.  And nobody is experiencing these pains worse than Russell Westbrook.

In my opinion, point guard is the second hardest position to play in professional sports.  That's what makes this influx of young, talented point guards in the league such an anomaly.  None of them is more surprising than Russell Westbrook.  A combo guard entering the league and GM's had serious questions about his ability to play point guard, Wesbtrook has transformed into one of the league's stars alongside Durant.  He capped off an impressive regular season with a 2nd Team All-NBA selection by the coaches.

But the Westbrook in the playoffs has been an entirely different beast.  It started with the game four gaffe in the Memphis series when Westbrook blatantly ignored Durant and the rest of the Thunder costing his team the game.  Then last night, Westbrook failed to run a play correctly at the end of the third quarter (depending on who is asked, Westbrook or Scott Brooks) and subsequently sat the remainder of the game, which ultimately the Thunder won.

Two events that on the surface do not appear as much, but when examined more closely one aspect clearly stands out: Westbrook's attitude throughout the two incidents.  In last night's game, Westbrook exchanged heated words with Brooks just before his benching and Maurice Cheeks was forced to calm Westbrook down.  A similar exchange took place in game four of the Memphis series when Westbrook channeled his inner-Kobe and refused to pass to his teammates.

Fine, NBA players bicker with coaches all the time.  The bigger concern is how Westbrook interacts with and his attitude towards the team's captain, and best scorer in the NBA, Kevin Durant.  Several times this post-season, the two have been seen jawing at each other on the bench, as Durant grew frustrated with his point guard's inability to distribute the ball.  Westbrook's job is to create shots for his teammates, especially Durant.  But their chemistry is sparse at best.  Neither one appears interested in assisting other, which is  disconcerting when one of the players is the point guard.

Durant and Westbrook have to be on the same page for OKC to be successful.  The relationship between these two can dictate the entire standing of this team.  If they remain as disconnected as they have through these playoffs, they will face major issues throughout the remainder of their time in Oklahoma City.

Two years ago, Oklahoma City was the place to play in the NBA because of how well the team got along.  Now their cohesiveness seems to be wearing away.  I don't think that it is time to push the panic button, but Sam Presti and Scott Brooks should probably keep a close eye on this.  Durant has shown maturity beyond his years; Westbrook still looks like a brash, arrogant college player with no signs of growing up.  Oklahoma City's future and success depends on it.


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