February 23, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Larry Bird and Jason Kidd are in awe of Russell Westbrook's ability to make the difficult seem routine.

They know firsthand the all-around effort it takes to record a triple-double in the natural flow of the game, and they don't expect the high-energy Oklahoma City guard to back off down the stretch of the regular season.

Westbrook is poised to become just the second player to average a triple-double for the season - Oscar Robertson did it during the 1961-62 season. The regular season resumes Thursday after the All-Star break and the 28-year-old Westbrook has been dogged by questions about whether he'll break down because of his workload, even though he only plays 34.6 minutes per game.

Bird says Westbrook - who has 27 triple-doubles this season, and 64 in his career -has played the same way his entire career and rarely has been affected by injury.

''If he backed off, he wouldn't be able to do it,'' the president of the Indiana Pacers told The Associated Press in a phone interview. ''He's a go-getter - 100 miles an hour straight forward, and you know when you go into a game against him, you'd better be ready to play or he'll embarrass you.''

Westbrook has embarrassed more than a few players this year.

He is averaging 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists, and more important to the two-time All-Star MVP, the Thunder are in playoff contention.

The Thunder are 39-6 the past two seasons when Westbrook gets a triple-double. When he ran off seven straight earlier this season, the most since Michael Jordan had seven in a row in 1989, the Thunder went 6-1. Oklahoma City is 32-25 and battling to make the Western Conference playoffs even after the much-talked about departure of Kevin Durant via free agency during the offseason.

''Some guys get numbers and they can't win,'' said Bird, a three-time NBA champion and league MVP. ''Russ can pull himself and his team through a lot of tough adversaries, and as far as getting wins, he gets them. People take a lot of this for granted, but to be able to do this night after night is just beyond imaginable to me. It's a tough gig.''

It's even tougher when you're a 6-foot-3 point guard.

Kidd, coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and third all-time in triple doubles, is impressed that Westbrook has posted the rebound and assist numbers while leading the league in scoring. He said Westbrook's improved 3-point shooting has made him virtually unstoppable. Westbrook's 33.8-percent clip is the best of his career.

''It's funny because now he's shooting the ball,'' Kidd told the AP. ''And that was the only hope you had, was to hope he settled for the jump shot because he's so athletic.''

Westbrook already has 27 triple-doubles this season, and 64 in his career.

''It's being a total player, playing both ends of the floor,'' said Bird, who ranks sixth all-time with 59 triple-double. ''It's just remarkable that someone in this day and time is able to do that.''

Kidd, who has 107 triple-doubles, knows how hard it is to consistently carry so much responsibility.

''He's been in the league and he understands what he has to do, and he accepts that,'' Kidd said. ''It's not a burden, it's not a chore, it's what he's become accustomed to doing. If you didn't have a stat sheet, he wouldn't change his style of play. He would still be one of the guys that's the best at what he does on a nightly basis.''

Westbrook has shunned the idea that he needs to get one every night for the Thunder to win. But he understands the historic significance of what he is doing. When he passed Bird and moved into fifth all-time in career triple-doubles, he paused to reflect.

''He's a legend for a reason,'' Westbrook said after posting 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 25. ''It's an honor, man. You never take this game for granted, playing the game I love every night. To be able to do that (pass Bird) is a great accomplishment.''

LeBron James, arguably still the best all-around player in the league, is a fan of Westbrook, who had 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 9.

''Russ is a heck of a player,'' said James, who ranks seventh in NBA history in triple-doubles. ''What he is doing is unbelievable, averaging a triple-double this year, and he proved tonight why he's an MVP candidate.''

Bird took it step further, saying Westbrook's run has been good for the sport.

''I'm one of them guys that like to see things like this happen,'' Bird said. ''When you get in that category, there's no question that you're special. Russ has been special for a long time in our league, and to be able to accomplish this up to this point is pretty remarkable.''

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

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