Russell Westbrook is finally taking a night off.
The Oklahoma City star is resting for the game on Tuesday night in Minnesota, the first time this season he has missed a game. With the Thunder locked into the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoff field and only two games left on the schedule, coach Billy Donovan said the time was right to give their MVP candidate a rest.
“He’s played 80 games. He’s been unbelievable in the way he’s played, the way he’s led,” Donovan said after the team’s morning shootaround. “This was a game that, sitting down and talking to him and the medical staff, this was an opportunity.”
Donovan said the decision ultimately was Westbrook’s to make. The Thunder finish the regular season at home on Wednesday night against Denver, and Donovan said they will have more conversation with Westbrook before deciding if he will play in that game or not.
“We’ll certainly give input in terms of resting, in terms of how it may be helpful to him,” Donovan said. “But I always feel like, as a player, you have a certain rhythm you get into and a way you’re playing. … The last thing you want to do as a coach is to have them feel they need to do something they’re not totally, 100 percent on board with because it may break the way they’re playing.”
The last thing the Thunder want to do is disrupt the incredible flow Westbrook has sustained all season. He leads the league in scoring and broke Oscar Robertson’s record with 42 triple-doubles this season to help the Thunder move on after Kevin Durant left for Golden State.
Known for his relentless style and frenetic energy, Westbrook was one of six players to start every game this season. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng, Indiana’s Jeff Teague and Washington’s Marcin Gortat are the only remaining players to do it.
The rest issue has become a big one in the league this season, and Commissioner Adam Silver said last week that “there was no more important issue for the league right now” as it looks to reduce the number of times teams rest multiple key players in a game, particularly one on national television.
But with the playoffs so close and the Thunder unable to improve their position, this situation was different than when a team sits many of its starters in December or February.
“At the end of the day, he was the one who also thought that this would be a good day (to rest),” Donovan said. “Our medical staff agreed with him that this would be a great opportunity to get some rest.”
Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson are also resting for the Thunder.
“I think he knows this is good for him,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “This is good for him physically. This is good for him to get a rest and have some time.”