Durant needs Westbrook to win

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

Some nights I'm convinced Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will win their first NBA championship this June. Other nights, I'm Thunderstruck by their bizarre limitations.

For now I'm pretty sure only that (1) the only team that can beat the Oklahoma City Thunder is the Oklahoma City Thunder and (2) Durant and Westbrook are the strangest duo this side of Jekyll and Hyde. If only Dr. Jekyll could explain what keeps going on with Westbrook's knee. And only Dr. Freud might clarify the Nice/Not Nice conflict within Durant.

 On second thought, maybe Freud could better explain the team's mysterious decision to possibly rest Westbrook, age 25, for one game each of the Thunder's six remaining back-to-backs, starting last Sunday night. He watched as Durant & Co. were blown out at home by Dallas.

Yes, Westbrook's knee underwent three surgical procedures between April and January -- after what at first seemed like a relatively minor cartilage tear. Yes, he keeps saying the knee is fine and keeps playing with his usual 100 mph rage to win -- and without a hint of a limp. Yet he's being rested as if he were 37-year-old Tim Duncan?

Don't ask Thunder coaches or management, who are CIA secretive and lead the league in media stonewalling. This naturally makes you wonder what they're hiding.

Could Durant win a title without Westbrook? I used to believe so. For years, starting with Durant's one college season at Texas, I raved on "First Take" about the most freakish scoring talent I'd ever seen -- 6 feet, 9 inches tall with arms stretching from Austin to Oklahoma City and the lightning release and long-distance touch of a Ray Allen. Lord have mercy on the NBA.

For years, I railed about how ego-crazed Westbrook, the worst-case shoot-first point guard, made so many knuckleheaded decisions in games and shot so many shots Durant should be taking. Last season, Westbrook took the NBA's second-most shots behind Kobe Bryant -- 102 more than Kevin Durant! As much as Durant liked (even loved) his little buddy Westbrook, the two had occasionally clashed over No. 0's shot selection.

Durant/Westbrook still seems an uneasy alliance, a Thunderstorm on the horizon.

But on Wednesday night, April 24, 2013, life changed for the Thunder. Game 2 of the Houston-OKC first-round playoff matchup, in OKC, was Patrick Beverley's first NBA start. Westbrook hadn't missed a game in two college and five NBA seasons. Beverley, battling to prove he wouldn't back down, went for the ball as Westbrook attempted to call timeout. The problem wasn't so much that Beverley violated an unwritten rule -- let the opposing point guard tuck the ball under his arm and make the "T" signal. Beverley knifed too low and made contact with Westbrook's planted knee.

Westbrook was gone for the rest of the playoffs. Without him, the Thunder survived the Rockets in six games and beat Memphis in Game 1. Then, it happened.

In four straight narrow losses to Memphis -- soon to be swept by San Antonio -- Durant turned into Du-can't. Not without Westbrook. In "clutch time" of those four losses -- the last five minutes and the game within six points -- Durant shot a combined 3-17, 0-3 from 3 and 2-5 on free throws, with one assist. Lord have mercy.

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