Westbrook, Thunder roll into Mexico meeting with Nets
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Stopping Russell Westbrook is a difficult enough task for any team. Preventing the star guard from producing a prolific stat line at a high altitude presents another challenge.
The Brooklyn Nets will learn if they can stop Westbrook at 7,382 feet Thursday night when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder in Mexico City as part of the NBA's Global Games.
The Nets (8-14) are the home team for Thursday's game and Saturday's contest against the Miami Heat. They are playing more than 2,500 miles away from Barclays Center and in a city with an altitude significantly higher than visits to Denver (5,280 feet).
"I'd love to be home, but the opportunity to go to another country and for our guys to get that experience outweighs the two games at home," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, whose international experience consists of playing in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
Of course, the venue rarely matters for Westbrook, who has seven triple-doubles this season and 86 in the regular season since entering the league in 2008.
Westbrook has recorded at least one triple-double against every team, including three in the league's highest elevation at Denver.
He also recorded two of his 42 triple-doubles against the Nets last season. Westbrook finished with 30 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a 124-105 home win Nov. 18, 2016, and 25 points 19 assists and 12 boards in a 122-104 victory at Brooklyn on March 14.
Westbrook is averaging 22.7 points, 9.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds in 13 career games against the Nets.
Overall this season, he is averaging 22.5 points, 9.9 assists and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 40.4 percent. Those numbers are a decrease from last season but more like those of two years ago, when he last played with Kevin Durant. The change is partly due to the presence of new teammates Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
Westbrook totaled 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds on Tuesday in the Thunder's 100-94 home victory over the Utah Jazz. His showing helped Oklahoma City (11-12) rally from 17 points down to win a third consecutive game for the second time this season.
"I think you look at our record, it is what it is right now," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "The biggest thing for us is, 82 games is a lot of games. I just want to see us playing closer and closer to the way we need to play with having such a new team.
"A lot of times it's not a smooth trend upward. It's up, it's down."
The last part of Donovan's statement applies to Oklahoma City's performances in road games.
The past three games were at home, where the Thunder are 9-3. Oklahoma City is 2-9 on the road and enters its visit to Mexico on a seven-game road losing streak since beating the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 31.
"We are turning things around," Thunder guard Andre Roberson said. "We are committing to each other. We are sacrificing everything we got. We knew it was going to take a little time. We just have to stay committed to the little things and keep fighting for each other."
Westbrook is averaging 27.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.5 assists in the last eight games, though Oklahoma City is just 4-4 in those contests.
Westbrook is not the only player rolling for Oklahoma City lately. So is center Steven Adams, who aided Westbrook's triple-double with 20 points Tuesday. During the three-game winning streak, Adams is averaging 22 points and 8.3 rebounds, and he has made 28 of 34 shots.
Brooklyn (9-14) is 3-2 in its past five games and is looking to get consecutive wins for the second time this season. The Nets are heading to Mexico after an impressive second half showing Monday in a 110-90 victory at Atlanta, where they scored the first 17 points of the second half and led by as many as 29.
"You've got to think about it like we're coming from Brooklyn and we're playing OKC," Brooklyn forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said Tuesday. "They have a bunch of superstars, so they might have more fans than us there. We understand that. But we also understand that it's a mindset you've got to have going into it about how you prepare, how you play, how you feel. And I feel like we're going to play good."
While Oklahoma City possesses a star point guard, the Nets have a few developing ones while D'Angelo Russell recovers from knee surgery.
Spencer Dinwiddie is averaging 15.5 points and 7.2 assists in 12 starts, while Caris LeVert is averaging 10.6 points after scoring a season-high 17 on Monday.
International games are not a new thing for the Nets. In January 2014, they recorded a win over Atlanta in London's O2 Arena, and in March 2011, they beat the Toronto Raptors in two games at the same venue.
The Thunder have not played any international regular-season games in the Oklahoma City era, but they played a preseason game in Manchester, England, in 2013.
The Thunder are 11-6 against the Nets in the Oklahoma City era.
Updated December 7, 2017