Russell Westbrook piles up historic triple-double, has Wizards primed to crash NBA's play-in party

Jason Owens
·3 min read

While consternation about the NBA's playoff play-in is focused out West, there's plenty of reason for worry in the East.

That worry has a name — the Washington Wizards. A midseason punchline, the Wizards are now a serious threat to wreak postseason havoc after a late-season run powered by Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.

They walloped the Indiana Pacers, 154-141 on Monday behind the latest monster triple-double from Westbrook, who flirted with Scott Skiles' single-game assist record of 30 in the process. 

Unreal Russ

He slowed down after piling up 21 assists through three quarters. But his 14-point, 21-rebound, 24-assist performance was more than enough to power the Wizards to victory. The effort was just the third triple-double in NBA history with 20-plus rebounds and assists, joining Wilt Chamberlain (1968) and himself (2019) in the record book. It also marked career highs in rebounds and assists for Westbrook.

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Beal added 26 points, six assists and five rebounds as Washington improved to 13-3 in its last 16 games. The run has Washington comfortably in 10th place in the East at 30-35, 3.5 games ahead of the 11th place Toronto Raptors with seven games remaining.

Wizards are a playoff threat — seriously

This year, 10th place is good enough to qualify for the play-in games, where two straight wins would earn a playoff berth. The team the Wizards would face first? The Pacers team they just beat by 13 points. And they're just a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 9 seed, which comes with home-court advantage in that single-game elimination matchup.

The winner of that game would then advance to face the loser between the No. 7 and No. 8 seed with a berth in the playoffs on the line. As of Wednesday, the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets owned those spots. 

Which one of those teams wants to face a Wizards team Westbrook and Beal on a tear? The answer is none of the above. 

Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook reacts with the fans during a timeout during the second half of a basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Monday, May 3, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Russell Westbrook is good at basketball. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Let's appreciate Russ

While the Wizards have quietly climbed from a 17-32 start to relevance, Westbrook has somehow made his remarkable basketball talent seem mundane. Which it most certainly is not. After Monday's effort, Westbrook is averaging 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 11.2 assists. He's well on his way to a fourth career season with a triple-double average — a feat that earned him MVP honors the first time he did it in 2016-17.

He gets justifiably knocked for his inefficiency and overconfidence from behind the 3-point line (30.5% on 3.7 career attempts per game). But it's absurd to discount his unique set of skills. Oscar Robertson is the only other player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a single season. He did it once. 

With seven games left in the season, Westbrook now stands four triple-doubles behind Robertson's all-time tally of 181. It's probably a smart bet that he gets there.

And even if he doesn't, he has the Wizards primed to crash the NBA's play-in party.

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