Can Westbrook find more in reserve?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Russell Westbrook sat at his locker for forever. He checked his phone, he checked his phone some more, and then he checked his phone a little more. He wrapped both knees in ice, stood up, slipped on some flip-flops and for a second, looked like he was ready to talk to the few members of the media patient enough to wait him out.

Instead, he headed for the shower.

Some 45 minutes had already passed since the final buzzer in Memphis, a deflating 100-92 loss to the Grizzlies. With most of his teammates already out of the locker room and headed for the bus, Westbrook was clearly in no hurry to talk about what had just happened.

Maybe he just wanted some time to breathe. Some time to think. Some time to reflect and relax. Some time to heal, both mentally and physically. Westbrook has just gone through the Memphis 48-minute torture chamber, playing his worst game in two months, an 18-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist, 5-turnover performance, hitting just 5-of-20 from the floor. He missed five free throws, something unusual for one of the league's best at the stripe. And to punctuate it all, with 40 seconds left, Jeff Green (inadvertently) connected on a flying knee to Westbrook's chin that Ronda Rousey would've been proud of.

"Hey, you know," Westbrook said of the knee. "It is what it is. It is what it is, man. I don't complain. I get hit, move on to the next."

After an outrageous two-month stretch that produced eight triple-doubles, and averages that only the likes of Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan have done, Westbrook has struggled some with efficiency and turnovers, shooting just 35 percent from the floor over his last 10 games.

There's no chance Westbrook would ever admit it even if it were true, but it had to be asked: Is the burden of trying to drag the Thunder into the postseason without Kevin Durant wearing him out?

"No, no. I mean, I've been playing the same way for seven years," he said. "So, ain't nothing changed now.

"I'm all right. I'm fine," he said. "We just lost the game. We gotta get back to it Sunday."

Westbrook's minutes haven't necessarily ballooned. He's averaged 34.2 a game this season, the second lowest number of his career, not counting his rookie year (the only one lower was last season, when he was on a minute restriction for most of it). However, since Durant's last game on Feb. 21, Westbrook is averaging 37.0 a game. Over his last four: 40.0 a game.

"I know what you're getting at, and I don't know what your angle is, but he missed some shots, and he's missed some shots the last couple games," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He plays hard. He's going to get tired after every game. That's what he does. That's what an NBA player should do.

"That has nothing to do with his minutes," Brooks continued. "His minutes have been good all year long and we've monitored them. He missed some shots. Every time you have a bad shooting game, or a couple bad shooting games, it's not because you're tired. It's just things don't fall. He competes, he leaves everything on the floor and I couldn't be more proud of him."

Westbrook has always been the kind of player who empties his tank nightly, playing with the kind of ferocity that few other players can tap into. That type of relentless energy has always been managed, mostly because Westbrook could channel it in other areas as Durant shouldered the offensive load for long stretches. Now, without Durant, Westbrook's solo act, while stunningly remarkable, means the 34 minutes he's playing aren't the same 34 minutes he used to play.

"I think that's the biggest thing people don't understand is that his motor is unbelievable," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. "I don't understand how he could go for 40 points and 17 rebounds and like 17 assists. It's crazy to have that kind of energy. And to do that every night, it's gotta be tough. But he's built for it and he's able to take on that responsibility. And that's why he's one of the best in the league."

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said pregame that Westbrook makes "90 percent of the Thunder's plays," whether that's setting up a big man on a roll, a shooter on a spot-up, or finishing himself. The Thunder's offense has performed at ridiculous levels the last two months with Westbrook driving the boat, but it's also come with him having to make almost everything happen.

"That guys battles through the schedule like I've never seen a player do," Brooks said. "He doesn't make excuses how his body is feeling. He finds energy. He has a few reserve tanks that some guys don't want to ever get to. But Russell leaves everything on the floor and I like that about him."

The Thunder are in a tough spot. With the injuries they've had, it's forced Brooks to toe a fine line between running Westbrook into the ground, and keeping him fresh enough to destroy defenses when he's on the floor. For the most part, the Thunder have done that admirably, considering it has to be tempting to just roll Westbrook out there 44 minutes a night. Against the Grizzlies, with the Thunder slipping behind by 10 a few minutes into the fourth, Brooks resisted coming back with Westbrook until the 6:45 mark.

The Thunder were able to trim the Grizzlies' lead to four with 1:45 left, but a Marc Gasol dagger and a couple empty possessions put it away. Against Dallas on Wednesday, Brooks admitted to playing Westbrook too many minutes (44). Friday against Memphis, he played 38.

"He's one of the best players in basketball. What do you want me to do, take him out?" Brooks said. "That makes sense." With plenty of sarcasm on that last part.

What Westbrook needs is help. Against the Suns on Sunday, he got it, with the Thunder bench stepping up to secure one of their biggest wins of the season. Westbrook is capable of plowing through teams on his own, and then turning around and doing it all over again. Like he said, he's played that way for seven years. But any support he gets eases his load, which isn't a bad thing.

"He's one of the most mentally tough guys I've ever seen in my life," Thunder guard Anthony Morrow said. "And physically tough as well. Obviously it's our job to continue to have his back through anything. He has our back, he's looking out for us, and it's a family organization, so we've just got to continue to stay in gear, continue to push him, continue to motivate him and he'll do the same for us."

The Thunder have six games remaining. They're now only a half game ahead of the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and tied in the loss column without the tiebreaker. Their next two games are against the Rockets and Spurs. If the Thunder are going to claw their way to a sixth straight postseason, Westbrook might have to find that tank even he didn't know he had.

"We just gonna have to do it," Westbrook said. "If we don't do it, we go home. It's simple."