April 15, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook's triple-double against the Los Angeles Clippers reminded Kevin Durant of someone playing the NBA 2K game on rookie mode.

Kobe Bryant took it a step further. After Westbrook logged a triple-double by halftime against the Los Angeles Lakers this past Monday, Bryant said Westbrook reminded him of himself.

''He is probably the most athletic player I've ever played against,'' Bryant said.

Westbrook takes the high praise and gaudy averages - 23.5 points and career-highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game - into the Thunder's first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks. Game 1 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City.

''He plays the game with such an energy, with such an aggressiveness, and it needs to be appreciated,'' Bryant said. ''He is not out there trying to be cute with the basketball. He is not out there trying to make friends. That guy is playing hard every time down. It takes a lot of energy to be able to do that, and he just never seems to run out of it.''

After a triple-double against the Houston Rockets on March 22, Westbrook explained how he approaches the game.

''The game will tell you what to do,'' he said. ''Like I've said all season, if it's scoring, it's scoring. Rebounding, that's what it is. Passing - whatever it is, the game will tell you what to do. And that's what I try to do.''

Westbrook's 18 triple-doubles in the regular season led the league and, according to the Thunder, are the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. His seven in March were the most by any player in a calendar month since Michael Jordan had seven in April 1989. The Thunder are unbeaten this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double, and 33-4 all-time. He posted triple-doubles in 10 of his final 21 games in the regular season.

Westbrook didn't post any triple-doubles against the Mavericks this season, but he helped the Thunder win all four games. He averaged 23.7 points, 10.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds in the three full games he played against them. He was ejected from the other matchup after an altercation with J.J. Barea.

The potential for major numbers exists for Westbrook in this series. Barea and Deron Williams, Dallas' primary point guards, have battled injuries the past few weeks, the last thing you want against the explosive Westbrook.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Westbrook has done is merge his game with Durant's after having a breakout season the year before. Westbrook dealt with a knee injury during the 2013-14 season, and Durant dominated during that stretch, helping him claim the league MVP award. Last season, Durant suffered several leg injuries, and Westbrook stepped in to become the league scoring champion and All-Star MVP.

Durant returned healthy this season and averaged 28.2 points per game, yet Westbrook still elevated his game. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he never worried about whether Westbrook would be willing to share the ball after winning the scoring title.

''He knows right now, playing alongside Kevin, one of the best scorers in the world, that - he wants to win,'' Donovan said. ''He understands Kevin's value. He understands how important Kevin is. He's going to play accordingly.''

If the Thunder are to make a run, Westbrook will have to figure out how to become more efficient in close games. For the season, with the game on the line - the last 24 seconds of games with the score within three points - Westbrook has made 4 of 17 shots, including 1 of 9 3-pointers, according to STATS.

Many times, though, Oklahoma City's games aren't close by then, thanks in no small part to Westbrook.

''He's kind of slowed down to more of a point guard role,'' Thunder center Steven Adams said. ''He's always been attack, attack, attack, which has been unbelievable, but now he's really getting all the teammates involved, and actually, that is opening himself up more.''

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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