Charles Barkley is a fan of Russell Westbrook and he wants you to know, just that.
Appearing on TNT’s Inside The NBA on Sunday, Barkley told host, Ernie Johnson and co-analysts, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith: “If you don’t like Russell Westbrook, you don’t like basketball.”
That’s high praise from Barkley.
Russell’s team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, opened up their NBA Playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
The Thunder lost 104-99.
The Blazers’ Damian Lillard led all scorers with 30 points, while Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined for 50 points in the losing effort.
George and Westbrook are the face of the Thunder. OKC went 6-10 in March and turned that around with a 5-0 record this month.
George also is dealing with lingering shoulder issues.
In Game 1, OKC set the all-time playoff record for the worst 3-point percentage (minimum of 30 attempts) at 15.2 percent.
OKC will get its chance at redemption when the series continues tonight.
The x-factor could be Thunder big man, Steven Adams.
Adams has the opportunity to dominate the backboard and get some good looks from the low post. The Thunder as a team averaged 12.6 offensive rebounds per game for the season, good for first in the league. With Russell Westbrook’s overall shooting numbers taking a dip from last season, the Thunder will need Adams to clean up the glass.
In the NBA’s regular season, the Thunder were tied for first in the league in second-chance points with Denver at 15.5 points per game. In a league that has seen a true three-point revolution, possessions and opportunities are a commodity.
If they can collectively control the backboard, extend possessions, and get more attempts at the basket, those low shooting percentages may be nullified.
In the regular season, the Thunder swept the four-game regular-season series, between the two team, but the games were quite close.
But it’s a new game now; it’s the NBA Playoffs.
Could this be the year that the Blazers close that gap?
Back in March, both Barkley and TNT co-analyst, Kenny Smith both agreed that the Trail Blazers will be making their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 1992.
Smith punctuated that by stating that he believes that the Trail Blazers have what it takes to beat the star-studded Warriors in a best-of-seven series.
Barkley is sticking with his guns.
“I like Portland in the Finals,” Barkley told me last month.
“With [Damian] Lillard and [CJ] McCollum. The addition of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter. I like them in the West.”
What say you, Kenny?
“Charles, he can say someting crazy all of the time,” Smith told me.
“I don’t normally say it. I’m just saying, not every day in a seven game series. I’m talking about just three games: shoot six for ten in between to combat guys shooting four for ten from three point range. They have it, they have it! So to me, that separates them when they’ve been so close every year to get over the hump, that they can get to the Western Conference Finals and they’re a clear and present agent for the Warriors because the Warriors have had trouble with those two guards even in that set. And even, until this year, Oklahoma had trouble with those two guards; until this year.”