Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson vs. Russell Westbrook


The Lakers open up their road trip in Oklahoma City. The Thunder lead the season series 2-0.

Russell Westbrook is not a place holder for Kevin Durant. He is not filling in as the NBA’s leading scorer because the Thunder are mourning the absence of their favorite son, the reigning MVP. Westbrook is not an interchangeable yet benign piece of the Thunder puzzle, some vanilla brand substitute, nor is he someone playing above his potential and on a hot streak that will end when he runs out of gas.

We’ve seen this type of season before from Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan where aggression and will raises talent, athleticism, intelligence and court vision to exponential levels. This is Westbrook’s moment.

Since the All-Star break Westbrook has ratcheted his game up another superior notch to other-worldly. 26 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, 24 shots a night. He has scored 40+ points three times, 35+ points four times. He has 7 triple doubles. He leads his team and the NBA in scoring and he is the singular reason the Thunder have climbed into the playoff race.

Winning matters more than losing. Westbrook’s magnetism and creativity with the ball is often spell binding. All the talk is about Kevin Durant in 2016. But what about Russell Westbrook in 2017?

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This is what Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson are up against. If Westbrook was just a scorer that would be tough to deal with but familiar in its consistency. This Westbrook, though, is a throwback to Kobe Bryant’s 2005-06 year (35 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 27 shots a game). He can overwhelm opponents who are younger, unproven, not as confident and still learning. Jordan Clarkson hasn’t faced too many opponents like Westbrook whose game is based on relentless motion and aggression.

Jeremy Lin is coming off a dynamic game against the 76ers in which he was the sole reason the Lakers won. His offense was spectacular as he scored in a variety of ways and yet there were fans, after Sunday night’s game, who were perturbed with Lin, wanting him to not score 29 points, to not try to win, as if Lin cares one iota about the Lakers lottery balls.

Robert Sacre was quoted in the L.A. Times as being frustrated with fans who expect the Lakers to actively try to lose. Sacre’s chants in the locker room are about less ping-pong balls, not more. It’s getting to the point where players have fans coming up to them talking about not winning instead of applauding them for their effort. Frankly, they are tired of it. Sacre calls fans who want the team to lose “haters.”

The Thunder christened the Lakers with a loss on the first day of March. They ushered in a level of misery the Lakers have not been able to erase in 24 days. In that Sunday game, Westbrook didn’t play after injuring his cheekbone in Portland, and the Lakers still lost. Journeyman guard D.J. Augustin had 18 points as did Serge Ibaka. Jeremy Lin had 20 points off the bench, shooting 50% and playing 32 minutes. But, the Lakers lost by 7. With Westbrook back in the lineup, it looks bleak.

So maybe, fans won’t be so hard on Jeremy Lin Tuesday night. They’ll each get what they want. Lin will start and the fans will get another loss for their precious lottery balls.

Next: Jeremy Lin and Byron Scott: The Lakers Odd Couple