Russell Westbrook making his return Sunday night, three or so weeks ahead of schedule, was one of the most prominent things that could’ve happened for the Thunder. Not only can coach Scott Brooks breath a sigh of relief, but OKC’s superstar, Kevin Durant, can rest a little easier at night knowing he doesn’t have to play the roll of the team’s backpack by carrying the load. Going into the month of November, only one game into the season, the Thunder are up against a decent spread of of contenders as they have seven games against playoff teams from last season, including; hosting the Clippers and Warriors, the Western Conference Champion, San Antonio Spurs, at the end of the month and a ridiculous back-to-back on the road against the Clippers and Warriors on the 13th and 14th, two teams that are widely projected to play each other in the Western Conference Finals this year. It also doesn’t help that they lost November’s opening game to the Timberwolves 100-81, their worst loss since February 2011.
Things were looking very somber for the Thunder until they received the news that Russell Westbrook would be suited up for their third game of the season Sunday night against the 2-0 Phoenix Suns. Westbrook, who was expected to miss another three to five weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on October 1, came back. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but seamlessly, leading fast breaks, taking good looks and hitting the open man for easy buckets like we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the combo guard. It was a good sign to see him running the floor without any pain and racking up 33 minutes in the process and tallying 21 pts. on 5 of 16 shooting and adding 7 ast. to the stat sheet. In a sense, you could see it all come together after Westbrook lead a two-on-one fast break during the third quarter that lead to a perfectly timed ally-oop to Durant.
It was as if he never left and because of that, there’s tremendous hope that the Thunder could survive November with an above .500 record and maintain their high status they’ve held in the West for the last few years. If the Thunder were to struggle early, it could prove to be vital to them losing positioning in the playoffs and possibly losing home court, which they so badly need.
Of course, for this to be possible, there needs to be more production from backup point-guard, Reggie Jackson and power forward, Serge Ibaka. Ibaka’s improved his offensive abilities over the last year, but he’s had a far from decent start shooting only 25% in the first two games combines. Jackson, who averaged 13.9 ppg. and 3.6 apg. for the Thunder during the playoffs when Westbrook went down last season, averaged 11 ppg through two games to start the season, but struggled with turnovers. Now, it’s only two games, sure, but no team wants an unsettling start to their season with questions needing answers only a week in. Especially one that’s tired of being the step-child of the league to the star-studded Miami Heat with the second-best all-star in Kevin Durant. They have a statement to make and a lot to prove and having a shaky start is far from settling for them. If this is going to be their year to bounce back and have a legitimate shot at dethroning the Heat, it’s going to take more than just Durant and Westbrook combining for more than half the team’s points every night. The bench needs to contribute more for the minutes they’re getting and Ibaka has to have better outings than 4-12 from the field and getting to the free-throw line a mere one time in his 25 minutes of play. It’s possible, there’s no doubt about it. This is a very exciting and talented team, but slip ups throughout the season could be costly to them down the stretch and it’s going to require damn near perfect basketball to achieve what they want to.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK TOP 10 PLAYS FROM 2012-2013 REGULAR SEASON