Westbrook's Play Has L.A. Buzzing

He watches and remembers.

The unmatched athleticism, the midrange jumpers, the ferocity with which he attack the rim – Reggie Morris has seen Russell Westbrook do that now in the NBA Playoffs against his hometown L.A. Lakers and thinks that it wasn’t too long ago Westbrook was doing the same things for him at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, CA.

Four years ago, to be exact.

Morris, still the head coach at Leuzinger, has kept up with Westbrook throughout the years. He gets to visit with Westbrook during the offseason and now finds himself glued to a television set whenever the Thunder-Lakers series is on.

The first thing that strikes Morris about Westbrook is the point guard’s poise.

“He plays at a pace that’s comfortable to him and he looks real assured,” Morris said in a telephone interview. “He looks very confident right now.”

A few days before the postseason began, forward Kevin Durant talked about how vital Westbrook would be in any playoff series, given his skill set and the simple fact that he’s the floor general. Durant said the Thunder would feed off his energy, regardless of who the Thunder drew in the first round.

And that’s exactly the way things have panned out so through the first four games against the defending champs. With the Thunder and Lakers set to play Game 5 on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. Central, FS Oklahoma) at the Staples Center, back in the city where it all began for Westbrook, the Thunder will try to continue to feed off the point guard’s energy.

“Just in the basketball community in general and L.A., everybody is really supportive, everybody’s really proud,” Morris said, referring to the feelings for Westbrook. “It’s just a feeling of pride to see one of their own out there and on that stage. It’s not that long ago from him being here. Everybody had a soft spot for him.”

Westbrook returned to Leuzinger during the regular season for a high school jersey retirement ceremony.

Westbrook has averaged 21.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.0 steals and just 1.5 turnovers in the series. What’s more, the Thunder has a 72-17 edge in fast-break points through four games, thanks in part to Westbrook’s propensity for pushing the ball whenever possible.

Morris said he always allowed Westbrook to be aggressive in the open or half court. And Morris said that Westbrook has always been a solid rebounder, averaging close to eight boards a game as a senior.

“The guys that I’ve had that have been really good, we always emphasized that you have to do more than score because your scoring comes and go and you have to impact the game in other ways,” Morris said. “We always impart that on them.”

As for Westbrook’s dunking ability, well, that didn’t come until his senior year. And Morris remembers Westbrook’s first dunk well. It came in a close game against rival Hawthorne High, who Leuzinger had defeated five times in a row. It was the fourth quarter of a three-point game with Leuzinger ahead. There was a loose ball and a scramble ensued. Westbrook ended up with the ball in his hands and in a one-on-one situation.

“He dunked on the guy,” Morris said. “It was one-handed, off one foot on the right side of the lane. It went from a three-point game to a 15-point game. It changed the whole tide of the game.”

Sound familiar?

Westbrook’s late third-quarter dunk over Lamar Odom in Game 3 was what many considered the game’s turning point that gave the Thunder its first win of the series.

Watch and remember.

Contact Chris Silva