The Oklahoma City Thunder have done quite well without Russell Westbrook since later December, but it doesn’t mean they don’t need for the rest of what’s left of this season. Heading into their second game against the Miami Heat, it seems like their designated starting point guard is on his way back to the court.
Westbrook has been out since December 27 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after some concerning swelling appeared. Westbrook had surgery on the same knee just before the season, but it didn’t stop him from returning only two games after the season began, averaging 21.3 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
The Thunder struggled initially with Westbrook out for a second time, losing five of their first 10 games without him. However, they’re gone 15-2 since January 16, losing only to the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic, and keeping it perfect at home. Kevin Durant has been on a tear, everyone else have stepped up on both ends of the floor, and it seems like the Thunder have distinguished themselves as the best team in the Western conference if not the NBA, beating the Miami Heat by 17 points in South Beach.
Are they actually better without Westbrook? We’ll probably find out soon enough, although it is going to take Westbrook some time to find his footing again, missing so much basketball and having his knee undergo two surgeries in such a short time. The Thunder will evaluate his condition before the game and decide if bringing him to face the Heat is the right time for him to make his return.
The Thunder didn’t really take it easy with Westbrook when he came back early, going 21-4 with him in the starting lineup. He played 33 minutes on his first night this season and didn’t show any signs of slowing down or getting too much rest before finally being shut down in late December.
Westbrook coming back means Reggie Jackson hitting the bench again. Jackson has been averaging 14.4 points as a starter compared to 12.8 when coming off the bench; not that much of a difference. However, the Thunder will probably limit Westbrook’s minutes early on (32.9 this season) just to see if everything’s OK before letting him run full steam ahead, hoping that this time no complications will appear along the way.