Russell Westbrook can tie Wilt Chamberlain’s record for the most consecutive triple doubles in NBA history at Houston tonight.
That’s it, plain and simple.
Chamberlain did it the last nine games of the 1967-68 regular season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 62-20, yet fell one playoff series short of reaching the NBA Finals, victims of the Boston Celtics, which only proves the Celtics were beating Chamberlain even before he became a Los Angeles Laker.
Earlier in the same season, Chamberlain enjoyed a run of five straight, one of them the only 20-20-20 triple-double in league history, when he went for 22 points, 21 assists and and 25 rebounds in a 10-point victory over Detroit on Feb. 2, 1968.
Whether it makes the achievements more or less impressive could be up for debate, but beyond Chamberlain’s season averages that year of 24.3 points, 8.6 assists and 23.8 rebound, he was responsible for one other absolutely insane statistic: playing time.
In 50 of 82 regular-season games, he played all 48 minutes of regulation. In three of those games, he played 53, 58 and 53 minutes, playing every minute of overtime, too. Additionally, he played in all 82 games, only twice playing less than 40 minutes.
Some of those numbers, Westbrook nor anybody else may ever chase. Still, that’s the company he’s keeping as he takes the floor tonight.
One thing may make reaching nine straight more difficult tonight and that’s the pace Houston prefers to play.
Handing their offense pretty much completely over to James Harden, who’s averaging 36.5 points per outing — more than any player since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 in 1986-87 (which was the most since Chamberlain’s 44.8 in 1962-63) — the Rockets ranks 24th in the league at 102.1 possessions per game. The Thunder rank second at 107.3.
Still, Westbrook ought to pilot at least 95 percent of the possessions he typically directs and, the way he’s been going, that could be more than enough.
Over his run of eight straight triple-doubles, Westbrook has averaged 19.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 14.3 assists.
Of all 24 of his totals — points, rebounds, assists over those eight games — only once did he top out at 10 in any category and only one other time did he top out at 11. Basically, he’s been reaching his double figures in each category with vast room to spare.
Thursday’s 117-95 victory over Orlando was just another example: 15 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists.
Though Westbrook leads the league at 11.2 assists per game, he’s had at least 14 in all but one of his last eight.
Asked about that, OKC coach Billy Donovan opined it might have more to do with everybody else rather than Westbrook.
“We just weren’t shooting the ball well early in the year,” he said.
According to Donovan, Westbrook’s game has hardly changed over the course of the season.
It’s been terrific throughout.
“He has done a great job of moving the ball. He has done a great job of generating shots for guys. He’s forcing guys to run with him because of the way he’s passing the ball,” he said. “He’s generating a lot of good looks.”
Westbrook might enjoy setting up teammates the most.
“One of the most satisfying things to me is to be able to see your brother, your teammate and the guy next to you put the work in and see it come into play throughout the game,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Prior to his ongoing streak, Westbrook had earned a collective 13 other triple-doubles this season. Oklahoma City is 15-6 in those 21 games for a .714 winning percentage, better than the Thunder’s overall marks of 35-19 and .648.
Tonight’s just a game.
If the Thunder win it, they’ll have won 10 of 11 with an excellent chance to win two more — against Portland, at New Orleans — heading into the All-Star break.
Also, whether he’s thinking about it or not, Westbrook has a chance make some history and all he must do is what he’s already done over his last eight games.
THUNDER TONIGHT: At Houston, 7:30 p.m. (TV: ABC)