Thunder needs Victor Oladipo to break out of slump
By CLIFF BRUNT
The shooting guard averaged nearly 16 points a game during Westbrook's record-setting season, but his scoring has dropped to about half that in the postseason. His disappearing act is a major reason the Thunder trail the Houston Rockets 2-0 heading into Friday's game in Oklahoma City.
Westbrook has averaged a triple-double the first two games of the series and dropped a 51-point triple-double on Wednesday night. But the Thunder have no wins to show for his heroics. Oladipo, Oklahoma City's No. 2 scorer in the regular season, is averaging 8.5 points and shooting a woeful 19 percent from the field in the series.
The 24-year-old Oladipo, who played collegiately at Indiana, is trying to keep it simple in the first playoff appearances of his career.
"That's the thing," Oladipo said, "when you have games like this, you go back to the basics. You go back to what got you here, continue to keep working and never lose confidence."
The focus on Oladipo's production is magnified with no Kevin Durant in OKC.
The Thunder acquired Oladipo in a draft-night deal with Orlando last year, and it looked like he would be the team's third option. But Durant left for Golden State, leaving Oladipo to fill a massive void created by the departure of the four-time scoring champion.
At times, the explosive Oladipo has looked capable. He got off to a hot start with the Thunder, and his scoring average was over 17 points at the end of November. He missed nine games in December after spraining his right wrist, then missed six games in February with back spasms, slowing his momentum.
He was solid upon his return from the back issues before falling into a bit of a slump in April that has carried over into the playoffs
Westbrook and Thunder coach Billy Donovan have talked to Oladipo about his struggles and tried to reassure him.
"He wants to do great like every player," Westbrook said. "Everybody always wants to come out and play great. It doesn't always work out that way. Your mindset - you've just got to keep going, regardless of if you miss or make shots. He does so many other things for our team when he's on the floor - defending at a high level, rebounding, can make plays. Regardless of if he misses or makes shots, his job is to play, and he'll be all right."
Westbrook said he doesn't need Oladipo to do any more than he normally does - or did during the regular season.
"Just play," Westbrook said. "Go out and compete at a level he's able to compete at, and that's it."
Donovan said the 6-foot-4 Oladipo has been solid overall. He is averaging six rebounds in the two games and has been one of OKC's better defenders.
"Victor's not a one-dimensional player - he can do a lot of different things," Donovan said. "Taking his mindset off the ball going in the basket, and him realizing, `I'm not going to allow myself to be defined by that because there's too many other things I can do out there to help this team.'"
There are plenty of other problems for Oklahoma City - the Thunder fall apart when Westbrook rests, the team has struggled to keep James Harden off the foul line, Steven Adams' foul trouble crippled their interior defense in Game 2 and they are stretched thin chasing Houston's numerous perimeter threats. But getting Oladipo on track is perhaps the most critical.
In Game 2, Oladipo missed his only two shots in the fourth quarter against the Rockets while Wesbrook was just 4 of 18 from the field. But Oladipo isn't concerned.
"I'm just out there playing," Oladipo said. "I'm doing whatever it takes to help my team win. We've been in that situation all year, and Russ has made shots."
Both will have to knock down shots when they count the most to get back in the series, especially Oladipo.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.
Updated April 20, 2017